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Jyväskylä police service admonished for delay in having police station renovated

Personnel began experiencing symptoms as soon as they moved into new building

26.5.2010

Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja has criticised as inadequate the measures taken by the Jyväskylä police service to have interior air problems in a police station rectified. The personnel had begun showing symptoms immediately after the move to the new building in 1998.

The interior air problems in the Jyväskylä police building were highlighted also in November 2006, when Deputy-Ombudsman Jukka Lindstedt made an inspection visit to the police service in the city.

However, a complete basic renovation of the building began only in 2008, when the problems caused by damp damage had not been rectified, despite many attempts to do so. The police units were then transferred to alternative accommodation, but the staff of the police prison had to continue to work in premises that had repeatedly been found to be harmful to health.

The complaint to the Ombudsman about the interior air problems in the building was made by a guard in the police prison, whose asthma had forced him to take early retirement in 2008 because he could no longer work there.

All in all, 16 persons had developed asthma between the move to the building and 2009, in addition to which many had other breathing difficulties typically caused by damp damage, eye inflammations and skin symptoms. The first case of occupational asthma was diagnosed only four months after the new premises had been taken into use. It was found to have been caused by damp damage-related microbes.  In the assessment of an occupational health doctor, the employees' risk of developing asthma had increased by, depending on which part of the building they worked in, 24 - 65 times normal.

Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja points out that the police service should have determinedly and comprehensively taken measures to eliminate the interior air hazard immediately in the early stage, when problems began manifesting themselves. The Occupational Safety Act requires an employer to eliminate from a workplace factors that cause danger or harm to an employee's safety and health, or at least to reduce the risks to such a level that the minimum requirements of the Act are complied with.

In the case of the Jyväskylä police service, these obligations on the employer were not fully met. The personnel were throughout the existence of the building exposed to harmful microbes, and compounds that should not be present in interior air were from time to time in evidence there.

On the other hand, numerous different studies had been conducted in the premises within the building and the best available expertise had been put to use by them. Damp damage and the associated mould and other harmful flora had been repeatedly detected.

However, no single cause of the problems was revealed by the inspections. Problems with the quality of the building work and defective supervision as well as an excessively tight construction timetable were regarded as the general causes. Repairs to the building had continually been made, but they did not eliminate the problems and eventually the building had to be completely renovated.

Thus Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja does not find in the actions of the Jyväskylä police service's labour protection and occupational health organisation any instances of negligence on the basis of which he could conclude that they had acted unlawfully.

Additional info will be provided by Legal Adviser Astrid Geisor-Goman, tel. +358 (0)9 4321.