A renovation project at a northwest Edmonton hotel has drawn safety concerns from some employees due to the handling of asbestos removal.
The employees say construction work continued at the New West Hotel despite a stop-work order issued by Occupational Health and Safety.
The hotel, located at 15025 111th Ave., has been a fixture in northwest Edmonton since opening in 1954.
“Apparently some of that project includes asbestos abatement and certainly we’re aware of that site and we’re aware of some of the concerns expressed,” said Alberta Labour ministry spokesperson Trent Bancarz.
Stop-work orders issued
Bancarz initially told CBC News that an inspection was carried out on July 5 but no stop-work order was issued. But a source provided CBC with documents showing Occupational Health and Safety did issue a stop-work order on that day.
Alberta Labour has since confirmed that a stop-work order was issued to the hotel on July 5 because there had been no testing for asbestos. The order was lifted Aug. 18 after testing confirmed there was asbestos and an asbestos abatement company, C.G.A. Environmental Construction, was hired.
But another stop-work order was issued to C.G.A. Environmental Construction on Aug. 23 due to ventilation issues.
CBC News was contacted by a number of people associated with the hotel about possible health and safety infractions. Health Canada says breathing in asbestos fibres can cause cancer and other diseases.
‘Disorganized, unhealthy, and unsafe’
Rebecca Grant, who worked as a housekeeper at the hotel until recently, said renovation work was carried out after the initial stop-work order was issued on July 5.
“They kept busting drywall after the stop-work order was in place,” she said. “It was my job to clean the rooms they had renovated.”
Grant describes the renovation site as “disorganized, unhealthy, and unsafe.” She claims after a month on the job her health started to suffer. Three weeks ago she had enough and quit.
“It was making me sick. I’d go into work and I’d have a really hard time breathing as soon as I hit the upstairs,” Grant said. “I have asthma. So I chose I had to quit because of the work conditions. I mean, you could see the shiny, crystallized dust particles in the air.”
The 31-year-ancient mother of two is now unable to pay her rent without an income, she said. She’s mad more wasn’t done to ensure the safety of employees and guests.
“It made me feel less than vital,” she said. “I needed the job. I’m getting back up on my feet in my own personal life.”
Grant said the experience has left her with a harsh, lingering cough and a terrible taste in her mouth.
“To work in a place with those types of conditions and lack of respect for the workers, it’s just better for me to cut my losses,” she lamented. “I’m not going to subject myself to getting physically sick.”
Her safety concerns were shared by Warner Stevenson, who has worked as a maintenance man at the hotel for four years.
Stevenson said he was told to continue doing work connected to the renovations despite the stop-work order issued by the province on July 5. He’s currently on stress leave.
“It just got to be too much, mentally and physically too much” said Stevenson. “They’re just not going about it the right way. They’re not getting permits. The hotel is full of asbestos.”
Stevenson told CBC News he only learned about the asbestos during a recent inspection by OHS. He’s now getting his lungs tested to see if there’s any hurt.
Stevenson said he would also like OHS to take more action.
“They should tighten things up,” said Stevenson. “When there’s a stop-work order they should go in and make sure it’s really stopped.”
‘Anyone in the hotel can be affected with it’
A man who teaches federal government employees about occupational health and safety issues also said renovation work continued at the hotel after the stop-work order was issued in July. He didn’t visit the site in any official capacity, but says he was concerned by what he saw.
“I’ve gone in at different times of day and nights and you can hear banging and stuff being ripped out,” said the man, whose identity CBC agreed to keep confidential.
“The construction would go on later at night. Some of the tenants upstairs in the rooms were saying ‘Oh yeah, they’ve been working up here 10, 11 o’clock at night.’ “
The man told CBC he saw no proper asbestos abatement measures in place at the site.
“You seal off the area, you place ventilation fans there, you wear a mask and gloves. None of the workers upstairs were wearing any of that stuff. I didn’t see any of it around at all,” he said.
He also said he observed a large amount of possibly contaminated construction debris being thrown directly into bins outside the hotel where anyone could be exposed.
“I didn’t go in to touch it to see if it was asbestos or just ancient insulation, but it was just thrown into the garbage bins outside the hotel,” he said. “There were hordes of plywood, two-by-fours, insulation and whatever else.”
The man said he called Occupational Health and Safety a number of times due to safety fears for employees and guests.
“For the residents still living in the rooms upstairs, if the dust gets into a fine powder and gets into the ventilation system, anyone in the hotel can be affected with it,” he warned. “It may be five or 10 years before you could get sick, right? It doesn’t show up straight away.”
When questioned if hotel staff or guests were ever at risk, Alberta Labour spokesperson Shirley Lin wrote in an email: “We can’t speak to what happened before OHS was onsite. We suggest you follow up with the building owner. The stop-work order was issued to protect workers.”
The hotel owner did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
CBC also attempted to contact C.G.A. Environmental, the asbestos abatement company that was hired after the initial stop-work order, but was unable to find any contact information for the business.
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