Safety report on McIntyre

Safety report on McIntyre McGill University

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McGill Reporter
November 21, 2002 - Volume 35 Number 06
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 35: 2002-2003 > November 21, 2002 > Safety report on McIntyre

Safety report on McIntyre

Staff, faculty and students in the McIntyre Medical building can breathe a little easier. Reacting to a Commission de la santé et de la securité du travail du Québec (CSST) report dealing with a number of safety concerns they had with the building, McGill has begun to implement several changes.

Robert Savoie, executive director of human resources, said one of the main concerns the CSST had with the building was the use of certain chemicals on floors with ventilation systems that use recirculated air. From a list of hundreds of chemicals in the CSST annex, there were roughly 30 that are used in labs in the McIntyre. Most of those labs are located between the seventh and thirteenth floors, which do not have 100 percent fresh-air ventilation systems.

"We have an engineer's report now. It says we can operate the ventilation systems on floors seven to 13 with fresh air as a temporary solution, and before Christmas we will introduce heating coils," said Savoie. He explained that the heating coils are necessary because the temporary system will not work at temperatures of less than minus five degrees Celsius. The addition of the coils will allow the new system to be left in place permanently.

When the CSST initially delivered its report on November 7, there was some confusion over how to respond. The university did not realize that use of the chemicals in question had to be stopped immediately. The CSST -- backed by MUNACA lawyers -- sought an injunction, at which point the university directed all labs to store their chemicals in fume hoods before they were to be removed to waste disposal. The need to send the substances to waste disposal was forestalled by the university's proposal to convert the ventilation systems. That proposal has yet to be accepted by the CSST.

"Some of the principal investigators were quite concerned -- they had been using some of these substances for many years, but the reaction was quite positive that they would comply," said Savoie.

Many of the problems with the building come from its age, according to Savoie.

"That building was built in 1965 -- I don't know what the regulations were at the time. The CSST was created, if I'm correct, in the mid-seventies. It's only been since the CSST was created that you saw more awareness of factors affecting worker safety," he explained.

Paul Clarke is a pharmacology professor whose lab is on the McIntyre's thirteenth floor. He is not sure that the CSST approach is really helpful to improving worker safety.

"The list of chemicals is not really applicable to research labs -- they seem to be applying standards for industrial quantities, not research quantities," he said. Although the temporary chemical ban was disruptive, he feels the CSST is doing important work.

"Ultimately I feel that the CSST is on our side and I think we should recognize that -- there seem to be a lot people with health complaints, and it's hard to believe it doesn't have something to do with the building."

Helene St. Croix, who served as the MUNACA health and safety representative on the CSST building committee, was less than pleased with how the University handled the CSST directives.

According to St. Croix, "the university started moving only when they found that the CSST was in court getting an injunction. It was only then that they saw they had to act quickly and they were not above the law."

Aside from the immediate problem the CSST found with the use of chemicals, there were a number of other problems they demanded McGill deal with. Some -- like replacing damaged ceiling tiles -- were dealt with promptly. The cafeteria in the building has stopped serving hot meals, since they did not have a separate ventilation system. Animal work will now be confined to specific floors, and researchers are encouraged to work with chemicals in fume hoods instead of on the bench.

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