(Canadian OH&S News) — Nova Scotia’s Department of Labour and Advanced Education (DOL) is investigating a claim that a dental clinic at Halifax’s Dalhousie University has been exposing student workers to mould and radiation.
Anonymous staff members at the clinic recently sent an open letter to local media outlets, expressing concern about the building’s health and safety risks. The letter claimed that high levels of mould had been discovered in the clinic’s basement during an assessment in May.
“The area was closed down and a haz-mat team was brought in to conduct a proper cleaning. However, there was a unit where radiographs are taken, and they failed to close this unit,” the letter read, as quoted in media reports. As a result, at least one dental assistant has been exposed to radiation “beyond acceptable levels,” due to a lack of radiation shields for X-ray operators.
Dalhousie officials did not shut the radiograph unit down until two weeks later, the letter added.
The university did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment by press time, but DOL spokesperson Chrissy Matheson confirmed that the ministry had received its own copy of the letter.
The DOL dispatched an inspector and a hygienist to the clinic to do a preliminary inspection on Oct. 28, according to Matheson. “The media advised us of this individual’s concern, so we did treat that media acknowledgement as a complaint,” she said. “We have legislation that requires us to respond to every complaint that we receive.”
The preliminary inspection found no immediate short-term risks to any staff or students, she added. “They want to do a few more reports and tests and things like that, to determine maybe long-term exposure.
“It’s a complaint that we’re taking very seriously.”
Matheson emphasized that the DOL has a 1-800 number for oh&s complaints, staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “It’s anonymous, and it’s quite responsive,” she said.
“We thought it was a little unfortunate that the staff person felt the need to go to the media before.”
This is not the first controversy that the university’s Faculty of Dentistry has experienced this year. In January, the faculty suspended 13 of its students over a scandal involving a Facebook group in which members had posted misogynistic and degrading comments about female classmates.