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The final report of Ontario’s SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) Commission clearly points out that health care workers should have been better protected, and would have been if the fundamentals of occupational health and safety were followed.

Justice Archie Campbell wrote the report, calling hospitals as dangerous a place to work as mines and factories because hospital workers have never been given the same protection as workers in those sectors. 

Campbell’s report is filled with recommendations that aim to strengthen occupational health and safety by emphasizing the precautionary principle: actions to eliminate risks should not await scientific certainty. With all the uncertainty around SARS, more should have been done to protect workers. 

Most important, the problems include Ontario’s failure to recognize in hospital worker safety the precautionary principle that reasonable action to reduce risk, like the use of a fitted N95 respirator, need not await scientific certainty,” wrote Justice Campbell.

It’s worth quoting Justice Campbell on the debate around N95 respirators, protection that CUPE has been demanding for our members: “Part of the heated debate during the SARS outbreak was over whether N95 respirators were really necessary. Those who argued against the N95, which protects against airborne transmission, believed SARS was spread mostly by large droplets. As a result, they said, an N95 was unnecessary except in certain circumstances and a surgical mask was sufficient in most instances. They made this argument even though knowledge about SARS and about airborne transmission was still evolving. That more and more studies have since been published indicating the possibility under certain circumstances of airborne transmission, not just of SARS but of influenza, suggests the wisdom and prudence of taking a precautionary approach in the absence of scientific certainty.” 

For more information on SARS see http://www.cupe.ca/sars/ART3fa0241b0685a

To see the SARS Commission report go to http://www.sarscommission.ca/report/index.html