At Simon Fraser University there are very serious issues of deferred maintenance and a seemingly broken system of communication and practice around health and safety. The former has resulted in an increasingly hazardous work environment and the latter has resulted in very few workers understanding and knowing about those hazards (and how to report them).
Right to Refuse Unsafe Work
All workers in BC have the right to refuse work that they see as unsafe. Unsafe conditions can include refusing to continue a lab class without proper eyewear, the potential hazardous nature of air quality in the room, or a variety of other things. This right is one of the most basic worker rights in BC**, and exercising that right has lead to the prevention of countless injuries and deaths nationwide – not just for workers but for those around them such as students (who are not workers).
When you refuse unsafe work you still must perform work and be paid the same rate – but not in an unsafe situation. Ways that this can be solved is through simply moving one’s class to a room with better air quality (e.g in the case of mould), being assigned to different duties (e.g. grading instead of heavy lifting), or provision of proper equipment (e.g. provided with eyewear protection).
All workers in BC have four basic Health and Safety Rights:
- The Right to Know (about potential hazards in the workplace)
- The Right to Participate (in the process of identifying and resolving workplace health and safety concerns)
- The Right to Refuse Unsafe Work (any work they believe is dangerous to their own health and safety or to another worker)
- The Right to No Discrimination (You cannot be fired or disciplined for participating in Health and Safety activities)
Symptoms of Mould & Mould Byproduct Exposure
Mould is a fungus that requires moisture and food (organics including dryall, wood, etc) to grow. It is not simply the mould itself people have negative reactions to, it is also the toxic by-product that mould can leave behind – even after the mould has been killed – even years later. Mould exposure, and mould toxic by-product exposure, can create any number of symptoms and often manifests differently in different people. Some people do not show outward symptoms to mould exposure, however this exposure can manifest months or years later in much more serious ways and thus it is important for everyone to avoid as much toxic mould exposure as possible.
Common symptoms include
- Chronic Wheezing
- Allergic reactions
- Hay fever or common cold like symptoms but over an extended period of time. This can include runny nose, nasal/sinus congestion, irritated or red eyes, irritated or scratchy throat, and cough
- Headaches & Chronic Headaches/Migraines
- Worsened asthma
- Adult onset of asthma
- Red itchy skin or rashes
- Feeling generally ill with symptoms such as fatigue, muscle ache, difficulty concentrating, and mood changes
Prolonged exposure to mould can also cause
- Auto-Immune Disorders
- Lung abcesses
Workers with a higher likelihood of mould related illness include those who have other allergies, have existing respiratory conditions including asthma or other lung diseases, are moderately immunocompromised (e.g. diabetic) or severely immunocompromised (e.g. AIDS or leukemia, receiving chemotherapy, or are organ transplant recipients).
What Should I Report?
Mould, water leaks, and musty smells should be immediately reported to both facilities and to your supervisor so they can be fixed/investigated as soon as possible (numbers and online form links found under “How Do I Report”).
Health symptoms that you have started having since being exposed to a new environment, symptoms that you notice in relation to a particular environment (e.g. your office or classroom), or unexplained health symptoms should be reported to 1) Health and Safety at SFU, 2) Your General Practitioner, 3) WorksafeBC.
As the nature of our work is education, it may seem strange to be involving your course supervisor (who is most likely a faculty or sessional member) about these leaks, musty smells, and health symptoms. However as a worker, these are your supervisors, and reporting issues to them is an important step in any health & safety claim.
How Do I Report?
Leaks, Mould & Musty Smells
Burnaby Campus – Urgent Requests
Regular Hours (8:00am-4:15pm) – Facilities Service Desk: 778-782-3582
After Hours (Weekends & Holidays) – Campus Security: 778-782-3100
Personal Health Symptoms
If you think you have had adverse health effects from your workplace please contact your union or association and your doctor. All communications with TSSU will be private and confidential where we will answer any questions you may have and help you get to the bottom of your issue/help sort out forms. There are an increasing number of people who are coming forward with these questions – you are not alone.
1. Fill out SFU’s Incident Form & print or screen shot a copy for your records AND go to your doctor to report any concerns (depending on their diagnosis they can provide medical notes recommending you limit your exposure to an area or work duty).
NOTE FOR SUPERVISOR LINE: If you are a student or if putting your supervisor in doesn’t make sense, just put your own email for that line in order to send.
2. Inform your supervisor & your union of your symptoms and why you must avoid a specific hazard (depending on the symptoms, you don’t necessarily have to be specific if you do not feel comfortable).
3. If SFU does not contact you to investigate within a reasonable amount of time (two weeks), let your union know. We can help you with the WorksafeBC form for workers & submit it appropriately.
How can I help?
If you see any issues – report them to help prevent further building damage
If you teach a class – make sure it doesn’t have any health hazards. If there is a musty smell, if you or any student have symptoms, or you see other signs of mould, request to change classrooms
If SFU tells you that you can’t switch classrooms tell them that you have a right to refuse unsafe work, that you will work, but not in a room with potentially hazardous air quality, and contact your union. It’s not just for your health – it’s for your students’.
If you have experienced any heath concerns – tell your doctor, contact your union, report it to SFU’s health and safety, and report it to WorksafeBC. It’s very important to establish a paper trail to be able to receive workers’ compensation in case these work exposures lead to more serious health concerns in the future, as well as notifying authorities that there is a potential safety concern in your work environment which will also assist in avoiding such working conditions in the future. Ask your doctor if you should be medically restricted from the affected environment. Many health conditions cannot improve or be confirmed unless exposure to the causing environment is stopped.
If you want to assist us in our efforts to inform everyone of current risks and situation – please forward this page and tell friends, students, and colleagues about what is going on. We are realizing that nearly all members in SFU community are starved for information on this topic.
References & for more information
Handout: TSSU Mould Half Sheet at SFU