Airports are far more than glass, metal, and concrete — they’re distinctly human spaces filled to overflowing with a variety of emotions, experiences, and perspectives. People are the heart and soul of Pearson — its travellers, their friends and families, the communities it serves, and, of course, its valued employees. For this reason, health and safety are, above all else, Pearson’s top priorities.
National Day of Mourning is a time to remember those who have lost their lives or experienced illness or injury while on the job. It’s also a day to reaffirm Pearson’s commitment to health and safety, understanding that Pearson, the 400-plus employers at the airport, its union partners, and its workers are on a continuous and collaborative journey to enhance worker health and safety.
“The most fitting way to honour workers across Canada who have lost their lives or been injured on the job is to develop a culture of health and safety that permeates every corner of the airport,” says Kath Hammond, Vice President, General Counsel, Corporate Safety and Security at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA). “This means having honest conversations, recognizing areas for improvement, and making changes where necessary. It’s also about highlighting past successes, improving on them and amplifying them, in the context of the current environment.”
Vice President, General Counsel, Corporate Safety & Security, Greater Toronto Airports Authority
The most fitting way to honour workers across Canada who have lost their lives or been injured on the job is to develop a culture of health and safety that permeates every corner of the airport.—Kath Hammond, Vice President, General Counsel, Corporate Safety & Security, Greater Toronto Airports Authority
“Mourning is more than remembering,” says Steven Tufts, Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC) spokesperson. “Mourning is a process of paying respect through actions. It means continuing to support Pearson Works! Online, the online resource centre for workers who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. It means establishing a vaccination hub at Pearson to serve airport workers and the surrounding communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19.”
“All over the country, countless dedicated workers before us have paid a price that serves as a reminder of our human frailty,” says Mike Garabedian, Senior Chaplain at Pearson’s Aviation Interfaith Ministry. “Although this is a solemn occasion, we commemorate the National Day of Mourning with a sense of expectation for the present and hope for the future as we reflect together on better things to come.”
Spokesperson, Toronto Airport Workers Council
Mourning is more than remembering. Mourning is a process of paying respect through actions.— Steven Tufts, Spokesperson, Airport Workers Council
The launch of the Healthy Airport initiative
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a variety of challenges around health and safety, but it has also resulted in opportunities for collaboration among the Pearson airport community. In June 2020, Pearson launched its Healthy Airport initiative, a comprehensive program that outlines the steps the airport and its partners are taking to be ready for the new realities of air travel and to lead the aviation industry in advancing the future of healthy travel corridors.
An airport is a complex environment, and everything from airport security and public safety to employee-customer interactions and day-of operations needed to be considered as part of Healthy Airport. In fact, many of the 400-plus organizations operating out of Pearson have implemented a variety of health and safety measures, and work closely with the GTAA to ensure their employees comply with the Healthy Airport commitment.
Healthy Airport consists of measures such as enhanced cleaning, mandatory mask-wearing inside the terminal, and limiting terminal access to employees on duty and same-day travellers. Pearson has also employed a host of innovations, from upgrades to the HVAC system, real-time, publicly-available air quality monitoring, and autonomous cleaning robots to COVID-19 testing pilots, four different applications of UV-C light sanitization, and the installation of plexiglass barriers throughout the airport. These advancements benefit passengers and employees alike, but the airport has also worked closely with its partners to develop a number of COVID-19 responses aimed directly at employees.
Focusing on employees
In addition to conducting airport-wide workforce education sessions at the launch of Healthy Airport, the GTAA has worked with public health officials and a growing number of airport employers to develop a COVID-19 case log. The log is voluntary and provides high-level, depersonalized information about confirmed COVID-19 cases at the airport, with 94 employers currently participating.
Earlier this year, the GTAA announced the deployment of 1,000 COVID Safety Alert devices to frontline GTAA employees. These devices were designed to help reinforce physical distancing and rapidly enable workplace contact tracing in the event of a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.
Finally, selected workers at Pearson now have the opportunity to participate in a first-of-its-kind study into the use of repeated antigen tests to identify COVID-19 in the workplace. Study participants are being asked to take a rapid antigen test two to three times per week, to support an understanding of enhanced safety in group settings like workplaces and further strengthen a science-based approach to COVID-19.
Strength through support
Airport workers have acutely felt the dramatic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result, the GTAA partnered with TAWC to create Pearson Works! Online, a virtual resource centre dedicated to supporting the employee and employer communities at Pearson.
“We’re encouraged with how the GTAA has recognized the impact of COVID-19 on the worker community at Pearson,” says Sean Smith of TAWC. “The future of our airport community will be shaped by our collective response to this unprecedented crisis. Now is the time for us to work together to make the changes needed so that Pearson will remain Canada’s gateway to the world, providing good jobs to anchor the communities where we live.”
“It’s vital that employers and workers continue to collaborate on our efforts against this pandemic so that the airport community can emerge from this crisis stronger, and so that the airport can fulfill its role as an anchor in the new economy for the region,” adds Deborah Flint, President and CEO of the GTAA.
Looking to the future
While the COVID-19 pandemic is anything but predictable, Pearson looks toward a future where a safe and healthy restart of air travel takes place at the right time. When that happens, there will inevitably be new challenges and opportunities with regard to worker health and safety. The GTAA is confident that continued collaboration with all airport partners and an unwavering focus on agility in the collective response will ensure that the health and safety culture at the airport continues to grow and flourish.