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CAUT Bulletin Archives

October 2015

Q&A Forum

S.C. from Halifax writes:

My office building on campus is undergoing renovations. There is lots of dust being produced and several of us have raised concerns about asbestos. What should we do?

David Robinson, CAUT executive director, answers:

The first thing is to report your concerns to your academic staff association, your joint health and safety committee (JHSC) representatives, and to your chair or dean. The chair or the dean is required by law to investigate and remediate any problems.

Under provincial occupational health and safety legislation, employees are entitled to know of any potential or known hazards in the workplace, and to whom these hazards should be reported. You also have the right to appropriate health and safety training to protect yourself.

If you feel the situation poses an immediate hazard, you also have the right to refuse work. There is a protocol within each provincial occupational health and safety act that outlines the steps you need to follow. It is important you keep your chair or dean and the JHSC apprised of any health and safety concerns you have before they become a work refusal issue, but you always have the right to refuse work if you have reason to believe your working conditions are unsafe. Be sure to seek assistance from your academic staff association and the JHSC representatives before or during a work refusal.

If you exercise your right to refuse unsafe work, the administration must investigate the alleged hazard with a JHSC representative, and in your presence. A determination will be made as to whether the administration’s designate feels there is no danger, or if remediation must take place. If the administration concludes there is no danger, but you and/or the JHSC rep believe a hazard still exists, your Ministry of Labour is called to investigate.

As for the dust in the building, there is usually no way to know whether it contains asbestos or other hazardous material without proper testing. However, any kind of dust can be a danger to your health. If you’ve been exposed to dust, let your healthcare provider know about the exposure and inform your association and your JHSC rep about any medical concerns identified.

Academic Advisor offers advice about your rights at work. To send in a question, write to Please include a daytime telephone number.