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Thomas outraged by employer reaction to electric shocks

Hamilton – The President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is demanding immediate action in the wake of a series of severe electric shocks sustained by ambulance dispatch staff – incidents that the employer has dismissed as “acoustic events.”

At a press conference held this morning outside Hamilton’s EMS Operations Centre, Warren (Smokey) Thomas denounced the employer’s denials and its refusal to make a serious effort to identify the real cause of the incidents.

“Quite simply, the employer is in culpable denial,” said the OPSEU President. “They’re saying it’s just noise, and they claim static electricity is causing it. In reality, the problem’s way bigger, and their negligence is putting more staff at risk of searing pain, injury, and permanent damage.”

Since October 2015, at least nine dispatchers have received violent jolts through their workplace headphones and equipment. Three were sent to hospital, two with entry and exit wounds. One dispatcher has permanent nerve damage to her face, while another has a concussive brain injury. Others have complained of nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and disorientation.

Employees say the new dispatch centre was very poorly built. Within months of opening in 2012, raw sewage pooled beneath the workstation floor, where all the electrical wiring is located. The employer has installed antistatic measures, but workers have been shocked since, leading the union to believe that the flooding and wire combination has compromised the worksite.

“The stop-gap measures haven’t worked,” noted Thomas. “Nothing but a painstaking investigation and thorough remediation are going to make this workplace safe. We simply can’t have workers risking pain and injury, while living with the anxiety of receiving a powerful electrical shock on top of the stress of their jobs.

“The employer must immediately relocate all staff to the two back-up locations until the building and the equipment are deemed safe by an expert third party. This is what should have happened when the first incident was reported. It’s what the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care should be ordering this employer to do right now.

“Our ambulance dispatchers are constantly looking out for the sick and injured of this province,” said Thomas. “Now it’s time to look out for them.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931