Following a complaint filed by the FIQ—Syndicat des professionnelles en soins des Cantons-de-l’Est on December 29, 2021, a CNESST inspector fully agreed with the union and issued no less than four exemptions to the CIUSSS de l’Estrie-CHUS, which will have to comply within the next few days. Safety measures for the return to work of employees who have been in preventive isolation due to COVID-19 will be reinforced, along with the wearing of N95 masks in cold zones.
Since December 24, 2021, the CNESST has been requesting that N95 masks be worn in cold zones. Since December 25 the union has been trying to find out when the employer was going to enforce this unimplemented measure. The CIUSSS quickly lifted isolation at seven days for asymptomatic workers who contracted COVID-19 without informing the union or the workers about the procedures in place.
For the FIQ, there are still a few unresolved things in the CNESST inspector’s decision. For example, calling workers back to work who are potentially contagious, which poses a risk and makes the workplace unsafe. It also does not allow a worker to fully recover in preventive isolation. The FIQ believes the employer needs to develop an action plan to modify how it manages staff. Clarification is also needed around ventilation in care settings. There are no actions set out to address this in the Ministry of Health and Social Services’ new directives.
Lastly, as regards other colleagues wearing N95 masks when in the same room as an employee in preventive isolation, the FIQ’s view is that the whole facility should wear N95 masks or, that at the very least, the whole care unit should, due to transmission through aerosols, in which particles travel further than two meters and linger in the air.
The CNESST inspector specified in her decision that “the return of workers before the end of their isolation, whether covid positive or negative, is an exceptional measure that must be rigorously applied and supervised in order to reduce the risk for other workers. Until the procedure is updated, the employer must ensure that all preventive measures are in place when deciding to call a worker in isolation back to work early.”
Every decision made to protect workers is a gain that enables the FIQ to properly defend the rights and interests of its members. The health and safety of healthcare professionals and patients must remain the focal point during this unprecedented crisis. The FIQ will continue to take action to make workplaces safer for healthcare professionals and to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.