The unlikely risks facing seemingly safe employees

Unlikely risks are hiding in the safest of workplaces, with one new survey proving why OH&S needs to be higher on the agenda for HR

It’s not the first workplace where you would go looking for biohazards.

However, the British Columbia chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees OH&S survey of the province’s libraries have found just that.

After a survey of 500 employees at public and academic libraries this year, a large majority of employees (80%) said they rarely or never felt unsafe.

But B.C. library employees indicated that they are regularly exposed to biohazards, with 37% claiming they had been exposed to excrement or urine.

OHS Canada reports close to that portion had exposure to vomit, blood and saliva, and 25% had encountered bedbugs and needles in the workplace.

A total of 69% of B.C. library workers had encountered biohazards in the workplace, meaning only 31% had so far remained unscathed.

CUPE B.C. library coordinator Zoe Magnus said the report was prompted by anecdotal feedback that cutbacks were affecting library worker safety.

Along these lines, the report found that 56% of the library workers surveyed said that they felt that staffing levels affected their safety at work.

Magnus told OHS Canada that librarians are having to deal with an increasing number of issues on a daily basis, putting them under greater pressure.

Many of these issues stem from libraries being used as a place of refuge for different members of society, with librarians called on to offer support.

Magnus said cuts to social safety nets were driving unemployed or homeless people into libraries, with librarians filling the place of agencies.

Likewise, bullied school children were often sheltering in libraries, where librarians are being forced to provide support in addition to their work.

Five recommendations were made in the CUPE report:
  • Provide more OH&S training and education
  • Raise awareness of other OH&S issues besides ergonomics
  • Make sure all safety incidents are reported to the relevant OH&S committee
  • Lobby for minimum-staffing provisions in collective agreements
  • Initiate special outreach positions in libraries with marginalised clients
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