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Paramedics keen to share insight on health and safety issues

'It’s anticipated that our paramedics (in Simcoe County) will respond to more than 91,000 calls for assistance this year, often facing complex situations,' says official

The creation of a new committee aimed at helping better protect the health and safety of paramedics across the country is being welcomed by officials with County of Simcoe Paramedic Services as good news. 

The plan is for the creation of a paramedic services committee under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), which will work toward developing resources and addressing the unique health and safety risks of front-line paramedics — ranging from violence, exposure to harmful chemicals and traumatic events. 

“In every community, paramedics are on the front lines each and every day saving lives,” Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton said in a news release. “These everyday heroes work tirelessly to bring us the medical attention we need, and in return they deserve to get home safe, too. I look forward to working with the newly established committee to ensure our paramedics receive the support they need.”

OHSA committees, formed under Section 21 of the Act, are comprised of both employer and labour representatives, who provide the minister with technical expertise and sector-specific advice on health and safety issues. This includes recommending regulatory changes and actions on other emerging issues.

The new paramedic services committee will complement the existing first-responder committees for fire and police services, while providing a focused channel for recommendations from experts, employers and workers.

Sarah Mills, director and chief of County of Simcoe Paramedic Services, echoed the statements shared by her counterparts across the province.

“It’s anticipated that our paramedics will respond to more than 91,000 calls for assistance this year, often facing complex situations," she said in an email to BarrieToday. "Allowing these professionals to share their insights through the creation of a standalone Section 21 committee for the paramedic sector can only strengthen the health and safety processes across our industry."

Deputy Premier Sylvia Jones, who is also the province's health minister, says Ontario’s paramedics have been "valuable partners" to the provincial government "in building a more convenient and connected health-care system."

“Many go above and beyond to be there for Ontarians and as we continue to work together to deliver care across the province, this new committee will ensure our paramedics have the support and protection they deserve,” Jones said in a news release.

CUPE Ambulance Committee of Ontario (CACO) Health and Safety representative Ian Nash noted the CACO, as well as the paramedics it represents, was pleased with the announcement regarding the new committee announced Feb. 28.

Nash said the paramedic unions — CUPE, SEIU, OPSEU, and Unifor — as well as the Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs (OAPC) and various stakeholders met for the first time in May 2008. Since that day, he said the committee has been dealing with health and safety issues affecting their profession and developing guidance notes.

The announcement, added OAPC president Michael Sanderson, demonstrates the commitment by the provincial government to protect the health and safety of paramedics in Ontario.

“The OAPC has advocated, with its partners from all unions, to establish this committee and we thank Minister McNaughton for his support in moving to this new format," he said. 

Section 21 committees include equal membership from both labour and management, a fact that will allow all stakeholders to exchange information and build consensus.

"The establishment of a standalone Section 21 committee for the paramedic sector is a win for our members and for paramedics across the province," said OPSEU Ambulance Division spokesperson Dave Doran. "EMS work is extremely diverse and encompasses practices not found in other health-care professions, which is why for years we have been calling for paramedics to have a standalone committee like our fellow first-responders in fire and police services.

"Nothing can match the experience of front-line paramedics. We’re hopeful this standalone committee will result in improved health and safety for our sector, and enhanced EMS delivery for the people of Ontario," he added.