Strang says Irving shipyard should have told employees about worker from Quebec

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Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health says Irving Shipbuilding made an error by not informing employees about a worker who was not required to self-isolate after coming to the company's Halifax job site from Quebec.

About 90 workers at the Halifax Shipyard took job action this week after learning a worker had been brought in using a public health exemption. A representative for the union said workers were concerned about health and safety protocols, exacerbated by a lack of information from the employer.

Dr. Robert Strang told reporters at a COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday that the situation is a reminder for all businesses.

"If they're bringing these type of workers in, it's important that every worker in that work site understands and knows the protocols that are going to be followed to keep everybody safe," he said.

"That has been made very clear with the followup of the inspection [Tuesday] to Irving, and we have the same expectation for every workplace."

The work refusal by employees at the shipyard triggered an occupational health and safety investigation by Nova Scotia's Labour Department. An Irving spokesperson has said they would wait for the findings before commenting.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Exemptions for specialized workers and other people to come to Nova Scotia from outside Atlantic Canada and not have to self-isolate for 14 days are not uncommon. From the end of March to the end of July, public health approved 901 of 1,249 requests.

The majority of those approvals — 478 — were on compassionate grounds for funerals or palliative care. The next highest categories were for doctors (117), business (89) and rotational workers (78).

But regardless of the reason for the request, Strang said granting an exemption requires a commitment that the person agrees to follow clear protocols, which include maintaining as much distance as possible from anybody else on a work site.

"We call that work isolation," said Strang. "And if they can't maintain distance, very strict protocols around masking, handwashing and all those kind of pieces."

Exemptions revoked only once

When the person isn't at work, they must be under strict isolation, which means staying in a hotel room or somewhere else with meals delivered to them, as opposed to going out for anything, said Strang.

"We don't allow this to happen casually. There are very clear protocols," he said.

Strang said that to date no positive COVID-19 test results have come from essential workers coming into the province via an exemption.

If he sees something he doesn't like after issuing an exemption, Strang has the power to revoke it. That has happened only once so far, when three executives from Irving Shipbuilding were granted exemptions this summer to travel to the United States.

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