CAUT's first national conference on safe and healthful working conditions confirmed the serious challenges faced by staff at Canada's universities and colleges, according to CAUT occupational health and safety officer Laura Lozanski.
"The discussions stimulated by plenary sessions made clear that hazards exist in every corner of Canadian universities and colleges," Lozanski said.
The three-day event in April featured a variety of presentations and workshops through which delegates explored long-standing issues like asbestos exposure, stress, musculoskeletal injuries, violence and air quality, as well as review-ed occupational health and safety standards, investigation techniques, safe handling procedures and hazard and body mapping, among others.
Speakers and resource people included the heads of occupational health and safety for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Autoworkers and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, and staff from the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
Pam Jacobs, a psychology professor at the University of Plymouth and senior author of a recent study of occupational stress in U.K. universities, said funding cuts, job overload, limited academic freedom rights and lack of resources and
respect are primary causes of skyrocketing stress rates. She noted what this meant for the lives of university staff.
Cathy Walker, director of health and safety at the CAW, presented a popular workshop on asbestos, a ubiquitous danger on university campuses across the country. She stressed that "this insidious product affects everyone" on campus and encouraged delegates to work closely with their joint health and safety committees and other unions in their institutions to deal with this serious issue.
Leading occupational health and safety experts Ted Haines from McMaster University and Bishop's University professor Paul Gallina drew attention to health hazards in the academic setting and reported on how to best mobilize to reduce and prevent them.
One of the most sought-after sessions was the workplace violence workshop, facilitated by Jessie Callaghan from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. The session was an opportunity to sensitize delegates to issues ranging from harassment to assault and working alone in academic workplaces.
Lozanski said the fact the conference raised consciousness in bringing together representatives from a majority of faculty associations, "indicates the seriousness with which they treat the issues of health and safety."
A major part of CAUT's occupational health and safety work is assisting local associations in dealing with issues that arise on their campuses. CAUT has begun tackling the problems with the recent issuing of health and safety fact sheets and is working with researchers at McMaster University and Saint Mary's University to undertake a study of occupational stress in Canada's universities and colleges. In addition, CAUT will be making Cathy Walker's conference presentation on asbestos available to each faculty association for showing at membership meetings and other venues.