August 1998 Legal Update

LEGAL UPDATE
By: Louis D. Stober, Jr., Esq.
CSEA REGIONAL ATTORNEY

HEALTH & SAFETY GRIEVANCE SUSTAINED

Recently, Stephen Walko of my office arbitrated a case that once again demonstrates the importance of grieving unsafe or unhealthy working environments. In this case, an employee at NCMC with a history of asthma, grieved under Section 17 of the CBA various unsafe and unhealthy conditions in his work site. The County denied any conditions were unsafe or unhealthy so the matter went to arbitration.

At the arbitration, testimony showed that the chemicals used in the employee's lab caused health problems due to a lack of proper ventilation. In addition, improper electrical wirings were causing additional hazards. Finally, while NCMC is a smoke free building, an inspection of the stairwells and landings near the work site demonstrated that smoking was being condoned. The smoke and gaseous conditions were causing the employee's asthma to flare up.

The arbitrator held: "It is beyond debate that employers…must do all that is reasonably possible and practicable to ensure that its employees work in a safe and healthful environment." The arbitrator then made three recommendations to resolve the grievance:

  • "NCMC should post a notice advising smokers that they may not do so on penalty of discipline. In short, they must do all of their smoking outside of the building. Perhaps, some type of canopy can be installed just outside the door so that smokers will not need to take shelter…inside the exit door…"
  • "…security and other personnel should accompany [the employee]…to ascertain who, if anyone, is smoking in prohibited areas."
  • "…an electrician should inspect and correct [electrical deficiencies] or certify that it is proper…Further, as to ventilation and other features of the work area, an expert or a representative from OSHA should send a letter certifying that the premises…meets or exceeds OSHA's standards…"

In holding for the employee and CSEA, the arbitrator reaffirmed the importance of a safe and healthy work environment.

If you believe you are in a similar situation, contact your union representative immediately since your health and safety should never be compromised.