Wildfire smoke prompts union call for worker protection

CUPE has released guidelines on how employers can take a proactive approach

Wildfire smoke prompts union call for worker protection

Recognizing the increasing severity of wildfire smoke, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has called on employers to take a proactive stance, urging them to prioritize the health and safety of their workers in the face of such environmental challenges.

Wildfire smoke is not limited to those in close proximity to the fire. CUPE noted that workers situated far from the actual wildfires can still experience the negative impacts of poor air quality, both indoors and outdoors. This widespread reach necessitates comprehensive protective measures for all workers, regardless of location.

According to CUPE, the general population is at risk, but certain groups, such as Indigenous populations and people with disabilities, are particularly vulnerable.

Employers have a crucial role to play in this context. CUPE emphasizes that employers have a duty to take all reasonable precautions to protect their employees from the risks associated with compromised air quality. Protective measures include monitoring air quality, providing safety equipment, and ensuring proper ventilation in indoor workspaces.

In addition, employers should ensure that their workforce is well-informed about the potential health risks associated with wildfire smoke and the protective measures they can adopt. This includes understanding the physical health implications, such as respiratory issues and eye irritation, as well as the mental health challenges that can arise from prolonged exposure to poor air quality.

After all, workers have the legal right to refuse unsafe work in Canada, including work made unsafe by wildfire smoke.

“When it comes to eliminating hazards at work, including wildfire smoke, we must continue to hold employers to account and exercise our right to work that is healthy and safe,” CUPE said.