Web banner. Text:  safe at work. Photo: N-95 respirators.

CUPE Nova Scotia’s School Board Council of Unions (NSSBCU) is calling on the provincial government to provide properly fitted N-95 masks to all workers in school settings.

“If other provinces can get them for education sector workers, why can’t Nova Scotia?” asks CUPE Nova President Nan McFadgen. “It’s the same virus in all the provinces, but education workers in Nova Scotia are expected to accept more risk?”

“Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) mask guidance has changed, and we need to upgrade our protection. We cannot afford to become complacent,” adds McFadgen. With increased concern about the aerosol spread of COVID-19, the new guidance recommends that properly fitting N-95s should be worn in indoor occupational settings (in a school setting that would include buses).

“We’re talking about making an investment that could save lives and protect our health care system,” says McFadgen. “We now have Canadian manufacturers making N-95 masks, so why isn’t this a priority for Premier Houston and Dr. Strang?”

The union is also trying to work through workplace issues related to COVID-19 through Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committees (JOHSC) in each region. The committees have representation by employees and the employer. They conduct workplace risk assessments and make recommendations.

NSSBCU Chairperson Lisa de Molitor says, “Our locals have reached out to their JOHSC to request immediate meetings. Employers have been making decisions about things, such as ventilation in schools, without consulting with the committees. It’s impossible to tell if the actions they’re taking are adequate without this kind of consultation. There has been no accountability.”

“Our committee members are asking to see the assessments of ventilation because we want the schools to ‘show their work’,” says de Molitor. “Consultation with these committees is required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.” Other concerns our members have, that should be addressed, include the discontinuation of contact tracing in schools, deliver of booster shots to education support staff, changes to isolation requirements, and extending the school shutdown.

“We are encouraging all CUPE members to contact their MLA, the minister and premier to voice their concerns. The province, and employers, must act immediately to keep workers in schools safe,” says de Molitor.