TORONTO, April 16, 2019 /CNW/ - On March 26, 2019, the University of Toronto Administration released both the Report of the Panel to Review the Asbestos Management Program at the University of Toronto and the Administration's response to that Report. The Administration appears to have had the Report for more than a month before releasing it along with a response.
The University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) is alarmed by the University of Toronto Administration's inaction and inadequate response to the Report on the handling of asbestos management, years after asbestos contamination in the University's Medical Sciences Building (MSB) raised serious questions about the risk of asbestos exposure at U of T. Asbestos can pose serious health dangers and, while the Review Panel's Report does not come close to fully addressing the problem of asbestos at the University, the Administration must at least act on the recommendations made by its own Review Panel in the Report to protect the health and safety of members of the University campus community.
University of Toronto Faculty Association (U.T.F.A.), C.U.P.E. 3902, the United Steelworkers 1998 (U.S.W.) and other unions and organizations on campus are preparing a media scrum at The University of Toronto's St. George Campus. It will take place on Thursday, April 18th, from 11am-12pm, in the Committees Room of Hart House. Speakers will include Jess Taylor, Chair of C.U.P.E 3902, a representative from U.S.W. 1998, and Terezia Zoric, Vice-President of U.T.F.A. This media scrum will communicate our shared concerns about the Panel's findings and design and urge the University to take more serious measures to improve its Asbestos Management Program.
In 2016-2017 multiple asbestos-related incidents occurred in the MSB. In response, UTFA immediately called on the Administration to seek input from employee groups in a process that would establish a joint task force on the handling of asbestos across all three campuses--and with a mandate to examine incidents in the MSB. Instead, the Administration created its own Review Panel and selected its members.
At the time, UTFA, along with several other student and staff organizations, criticized the process that led to the creation of the Review Panel. It is not the joint task force that UTFA requested. It was not at arm's-length from senior administrators whose conduct should have been under scrutiny. It was not asked to examine the incidents in the MSB. It did not provide opportunity for sufficient input from community members, including employee groups. In addition, the Review Panel did not include experts with practical experience in asbestos abatement and management and did not include representatives from employee groups working in affected buildings.
With the Review Panel's work completed, UTFA can see that some of the recommendations of the Review Panel are steps in the right direction. UTFA is, however, deeply concerned that the Administration does not see the need to take necessary actions to comply with the Review Panel's recommendations.
UTFA and its members, including professors who teach and conduct research in the MSB, continue to have significant concerns about the Administration's response, including:
- The Administration is failing to comply with its own policies that require the U of T to strive to exceed the minimum legislated requirements "by adopting the best practices available to protect the University community".
- The Panel's Report stated that the Administration should adopt a more stringent standard (e.g. 0.02 or 0.01 f/cc) for testing air quality and that such a standard was "readily achievable". However, the Administration has confirmed it will use a less stringent standard, contrary to the advice of its own Panel that the appropriate standard is "as low as reasonably achievable".
- The Panel recommended consulting stakeholders on a standard measurement approach and providing transparency in the oversight of external contractors. There has been no consultation with stakeholders or transparency about the work of contractors who engage in asbestos abatement in University buildings where staff and students work and learn.
- The Report identified areas where there should be greater involvement and communication with worker representatives and Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSC). The Administration has failed to commit to these changes.
- To improve communication, the Administration agreed to create "a toolkit … including the use of regular updates or newsletters to building occupants, and messages to other users and postings on site"; it is unclear that the toolkit will require everything recommended by the Panel (e.g. air testing results, weekly updates on the status of ongoing work).
Asbestos management is a serious health and safety issue, and the University of Toronto should be taking immediate and appropriate action to ensure that asbestos is managed according to best practices. While there are deficiencies in the Report, the recommendations made by the Review Panel at least provide a minimum set of actions the Administration must undertake, both as a building owner and an employer, to ensure a healthy and safe campus for staff, students, and members of the broader University community.
"It is clear that the University of Toronto administrative leadership fell short in its management of asbestos removal on campus," said Terezia Zoric, UTFA's Vice-President, Grievances. "As a first step to demonstrate that they are committed to addressing the serious health dangers posed by the presence and mishandling of asbestos, the University must act on the recommendations provided by their own Review Panel."
The University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) represents approximately 3000 faculty and librarians at the University of Toronto.
SOURCE University of Toronto Faculty Association
For further information: Terezia Zoric, VP, Grievances, University of Toronto Faculty Association, 647-678-0367