The Ministry of Labour has issued nine orders for unsafe work conditions at a Milton prison following a massive COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.
During a series of visits over the past couple of weeks, Ministry of Labour inspectors toured Maplehurst Correctional Complex after the provincial institution declared an outbreak of the virus on Jan. 19, according to the orders obtained by CP24.
As of Thursday, there are at least 118 inmates and 36 staff who have active cases of COVID-19 at the institution, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) President Smokey Thomas told CP24 Friday afternoon. The union represents workers at the correctional facility.
Meanwhile, Halton Public Health said there have been 228 COVID-19 cases (162 inmates, 66 staff) at Maplehurst since the outbreak began. The public health unit has not specified how many cases are currently active and how many are resolved. As of Thursday, no variants of concern have been identified at the institution.
The medium to maximum correctional facility for adult male inmates has a capacity of 1,055. The Vanier Centre for Women- a correctional facility for female offenders- is on the same campus as Maplehurst.
The ministry's field visits to Maplehurst aimed to address workplace issues as a result of the outbreak and to follow-up on three complaints received against the facility in the past month.
According to the documents, inspectors noticed some troubling findings, such as staff at the main door not asking screening questions to essential workers and visitors regarding symptoms, contact and travel.
The inspectors also noted that no social distance measures were in place in the lunchrooms, high-touch areas were not being cleaned regularly and proper instructions on personal protective equipment were not being provided.
After its inspection, the Ministry of Labour issued nine orders that the Ministry of Solicitor General must comply with by Feb. 8.
Some of the orders overlap for various units of the institution and include:
- Adequate measures to ensure workers and essential visitors with a high likelihood of transmitting COVID-19 are not permitted inside the facility
- Information and instruction to workers tasked with screening duties
- Regular cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas in the sign-in room and on the electronic key control box
- Regular cleaning and disinfection of tables used for break periods in specific units of the facility
- Adequate information and instruction on proper infection prevention practises and personal protective equipment
- Physical distance markers or barriers in the staff lunchroom
During a news conference Friday morning, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton did not elaborate on the orders but said the ministry plans to hold all employers accountable for failing to create safe work environments.
“I’ve been crystal clear, I don’t give a damn who the employer is out there. We’re going to hold them to account. We’re into literally thousands and thousands of workplaces every single month to ensure that workers’ health and safety and the public at large is protected," he said.
In a statement to CP24, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Solicitor General said the ministry is working to ensure proper safety protocols are in place.
"The ministry continues to work with staff at Maplehurst Correctional Complex to address the MLTSD orders to ensure the appropriate use of PPE, management of common materials and spaces and enhanced cleaning protocols are in place. The ministry continues to reinforce the important role that workplace safety measures including handwashing, wearing PPE and physical distancing have in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace," the statement read.
The ministry also noted that it has made operational changes across all provincial correctional facilities over the past months, including screening and testing all newly admitted inmates, housing newly admitted inmates in a separate area from the general population for 14 days and requiring all staff and visitors to wear masks at all times while at the facility.
Thomas said the government and the institution’s management need to work together to ensure all precautions are implemented.
“…management and union [need] to sit down and work together to make sure every precaution possible is being taken. Up the cleaning, and these older facilities there are problems with the air system. So, again it is quite amazing that it didn't really have outbreaks before this point," he said.
OPSEU Local 234 President Peter Figliola said the union is recommending additional measures be implemented immediately to address the outbreak.
“We've asked that staff work two weeks straight while being housed in the hotel across the street to mitigate the risk of spread into the local community. We've requested enhanced cleaning; physical distancing, notably by unlocking just half the inmate population at a time; and fever scanning cameras at entries,” Figliola said in a news release issued Friday morning.
The local also said it is asking for the “outdated and hazardous ventilator system” to be repaired as humidity levels are “dangerously low” which promotes COVID-19 transmission.