An interest arbitration board has imposed a 24-hour shift for
firefighters employed by the Ontario City of St. Catharines,
despite the city's strenuous objections based largely on safety
The City and firefighters' union had resolved all terms of
their collective agreement except whether there should be 24-hour
shifts and one other issue. The union wanted the 24-hour
shifts and the City wished to maintain its current shift schedule
(10 hour day shifts and 14 hour night shifts).
The City called an expert on sleep medicine and disorders.
The expert focused on the dangers of sleep deprivation and fatigue.
His opinion was that the current "10/14" shift schedule
was substantially safer than a 24-hour schedule. The
evidence, however, was that over 82% of firefighters in Ontario,
from "services of all sizes", have "adopted and/or
adapted to the 24-hour shift", and 70% of firefighters in the
United States. A number of other Ontario cities, including
Toronto, used 24-hour shifts which had been "freely
The arbitration board noted that the expert's evidence was
largely based on the experience of other professions such as
medical interns, who often got very little sleep during their
24-hour shift. In contrast, firefighters in St. Catharines
had gotten uninterrupted sleep during 80% of their night
shifts. Further, the evidence suggested that it would be rare
that a firefighter would not get any sleep during a 24-hour
shift. There was also no evidence of any allegations that the
24-hour shift was a cause or contributing factor in any harm
occurring, "even in the litigious U.S.A."
Further, the Ontario Fire Prevention and Protection Act
permitted 24-hour shifts, suggesting that the Legislature has
accepted that the 24-hour shift did not present undue health and
In summary, the evidence did not establish that there was an
unacceptable safety risk to anyone that could not be addressed if a
24-hour shift was implemented. Given the principles of
"replication and comparability", and given the wide use
of the 24-hour shift in other cities, the arbitration board ordered
the parties to convene a "joint committee" to
"determine the best formulation" for the implementation
of a 24-hour shift for a two-year trial period.
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