Guards at Nova Scotia jail refuse to work after asbestos discovery

Friday, May 16, 2008

Nine correctional workers at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility in Sydney, Nova Scotia refused to work after the discovery of asbestos in the facility by the Canada's Department of Justice. The guards walked off the job after the Occupational Health and Safety Committee at the facility was made aware of the situation.

Location of Sydney, Nova Scotia in Nova Scotia
Image: Qyd.

Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, told The Canadian Press that the guards refused to show up for their Thursday night shift, and did not show up for work on Friday. Jessome stated that the guards's refusal to work is permitted under the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act. "What they've done is not a work stoppage. What they've done is exercise their right to refuse to do the work because they believe it's unsafe," said Jessome.

What they've done is exercise their right to refuse to do the work because they believe it's unsafe.

—Joan Jessome

The issue of asbestos in the facility was raised months ago, and an April 25 inspection found that the asbestos was properly labeled to prevent staff from accidental exposure.

The location is undergoing testing, however preliminary results show that the levels of asbestos in the facility are within safe limits. Air testing conducted on May 8 in the facility did not show traces of the carcinogenic material.

The Department of Justice stated in a press release Friday that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will be providing emergency staffing to the correctional facility as needed, and that new inmates will be sent to one of the four other correctional facilities in Nova Scotia.

If the RCMP are required, they will be called upon.

—Sheri Aikenhead

Sheri Aikenhead, a spokeswoman for the provincial Justice Department, talked to The Canadian Press: "At the moment we're satisfied that managers are safely managing the situation there. If the RCMP are required, they will be called upon." Aikenhead said that an inmate had complained about the possibility of the presence of asbestos this past March.

The Cape Breton Correctional Facility is a provincial jail which houses 76 inmates. The facility is 33-years old, and asbestos was used in construction as a fire retardant. If asbestos fibers are disturbed and inhaled they can lead to lung scarring and lung cancer.

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  Learn more about Asbestos and Government of Nova Scotia on Wikipedia.