SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION CANADA

SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION CANADA

March 10, 2005 10:00 ET

UNIONS CALL FOR URGENT REGULATORY ACTION TO STOP DEADLY INJURIES

Safety-engineered medical devices a win-win solution Attention: City Editor, Health/Medical Editor, News Editor, Science Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor TORONTO--(CCNMatthews - March 10, 2005) - A coalition of labour unions is demanding that the Government of Ontario immediately introduce regulations making the use of safety-engineered medical devices (SEDs) mandatory in order to protect workers, and make the province's health-care system more efficient.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Canada, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) made the call during a joint news conference today.

Sharleen Stewart, Canadian International Vice-President for SEIU, says her union is using the historic success of their National Needle-stick Campaign in Saskatchewan and Manitoba last year to push the Ontario government to protect workers in this province as well. Stewart's union, along with the nurses and the labour federations in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba, successfully mobilized their members and pressured these provincial governments to commit to converting their provinces. Stewart hopes the same will happen here.

"This province spends over $64 million a year on testing and treatment of workers injured by needle-sticks in acute care alone," Stewart said. "The government could eliminate up to 90% of these costs by replacing conventional needles with the superior, safety-engineered versions."

"Every year, over 33,000 Ontario health-care workers are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases when they are stuck with used needles and medical sharps devices," she adds.

"We refuse to sit idly by as our members are being injured, are ill and are dying."

Needle-stick and sharps injuries can transmit dozens of deadly blood-borne pathogens from patient to worker, including potentially fatal diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and hepatitis B.

OPSEU President Leah Casselman said this issue, while of deep interest to OPSEU's 40,000 health-care workers, extends well beyond the realm of health care.

"Our members encounter used needles when working at our casinos, in group homes, in corrections and alongside our province's highways," she explained. "We can save lives if we eliminate the threat that used needles pose, both to our members and the public, through the use of engineering controls."

Even though the technology to protect workers exists, said OFL President Wayne Samuelson, only ten to twenty percent of needles and medical sharps devices currently used in Ontario are safety-engineered.

"We are here to say that this is completely unacceptable and inexcusable," he said. "The technology exists. The regulation works. The government has an obligation to properly protect Ontario workers."

Stewart says that the U.S., following the enactment of the Needle-stick Safety and Prevention Act in 2001 witnessed a dramatic reduction in injuries.

"In the first year of implementation alone, and with full compliance not yet achieved, needle-stick injuries were reduced by an astounding 51 per cent," she said, citing a 2003 Exposure Prevention Information Network (EPINet) study from the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia.

The coalition of unions said they will be mobilizing their 80,000 members to lobby the government and their MPPs to demand a change to Ontario's regulations.

/For further information: Ted Mansell, Health and Safety Coordinator, SEIU Canada 416-427-9794 www.SaferNeedlesNow.ca/ IN: HEALTH, LABOUR

Contact Information

  • Carl Mavromichalis, National Communications Coordinator
    Primary Phone: 416-951-4905
    Secondary Phone: 416-447-2311 ext. 243
    E-mail: mavromichalisc@seiu.ca