Labour Ministry issues 9 unsafe work orders to Milton jail battling COVID-19 outbreak

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Ontario's Ministry of Labour has issued nine orders for unsafe work conditions to a Milton jail following a massive outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility.

During a series of visits over the past couple of weeks, inspectors toured the Maplehurst Correctional Complex after the ministry was notified of a complaint on Jan. 26.

In an emailed statement to CBC Toronto, the ministry said it began conducting field visits that same day.

"Our investigation is ongoing and we're checking for compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which includes protections pertaining to COVID-19," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour said Friday.

An outbreak of COVID-19 at the jail was declared on Jan. 19 and has seen at least 116 inmates and 59 staff members test positive for the virus as of Wednesday, prompting the facility to stop taking new inmates altogether in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

The ministry wouldn't share further details about the findings, but it said when the investigation is complete, it will share more on the outcome, including any orders or requirements issued.

In a news conference on Friday, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said the ministry intends to hold employers accountable for failing to create a safe work environment.

"I don't give a damn who the employer is, we will hold them to account," he said. "There have been a number of orders issued and we will continue to be there to protect the health and safety of the workers and the public."

In an emailed statement to CBC Toronto, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General said it is aware of the workplace orders issued and is working to ensure that proper safety protocols are in place.

"Protecting the health and safety of correctional services staff and those in provincial custody is the ministry's top priority," spokesperson Andrew Morrison said.

The ministry said it has made operational changes across all provincial correctional facilities, including screening and testing all newly admitted inmates, providing masks, providing personal protective equipment to staff and enhanced cleaning measures.

Morrison said the ministry continues to work with staff at Maplehurst Correctional Complex to address the new orders and ensure compliance.