Tens of thousands of Ontario workers were compensated last year after getting sick from exposure to toxins on the job, yet a new report commissioned by Premier Doug Ford’s government says many cases of workplace-related illness are being missed.
The report, to be released on Tuesday, is an independent review of Ontario’s system for preventing and responding to occupational diseases, such as cancers, lung conditions or neurological disorders that are linked to the working environment.
According to the report, workers may face difficulty in receiving a timely diagnosis or compensation due to the delayed onset of symptoms after being exposed to a toxin.
“The government has provided CBC News with a draft of the report, which highlights that employers, health-care providers, and workers often overlook the significant connection between workplace exposures and disease symptoms.”
In the year 2022, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) of Ontario gave their approval to over 40,000 claims for occupational disease. Occupational disease refers to a condition that arises from being exposed to a physical, chemical, or biological agent in the workplace.
The government ordered the review last year and commissioned the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St Michael’s Hospital to produce the report.
According to the report, there is a lack of connection between the Ontario health and safety system and the healthcare system. Workers are responsible for navigating between these two systems independently.
Among the report’s key recommendations:
- Launch a public awareness campaign on occupation disease, focused on the link between work and health.
- Create an occupational disease surveillance system.
- Enhance the process of workplace medical evaluations.
Ontario’s labour minister will announce plans on Tuesday for a new system to track diseases and long-term illnesses acquired at work in response to the report.
Officials at the provincial level have informed CBC News that the government intends to establish the initial occupational exposure registry in Canada. This action, according to Labour Minister David Piccini, will enhance the efficiency of diagnosing diseases related to workplace exposure and improve compensation for workers.
In an interview, Piccini expressed that there are individuals who continue to get sick due to their occupation, and it is crucial for them to feel assured that both they and their family will receive proper support. Unfortunately, this level of care is lacking.
Last month, Ford selected Piccini as the new minister of labour, replacing Monte McNaughton who stepped down from his position to pursue a job in the private sector.
The causal links between some diseases and exposure to certain workplace toxins are clear, such as the cancer mesothelioma and asbestos.
In different circumstances, individuals who are employed or were previously employed have encountered protracted struggles to demonstrate that their occupation was the cause of their illness.
Thousands of miners in northern Ontario were compelled to breathe in McIntyre Powder, a form of aluminum oxide dust. Their employers had assured them that this substance would safeguard them against silicosis, a lung disease.
Instead, a number of these miners experienced the emergence of different respiratory conditions or neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s disease.
Only in the past few years, approximately forty years after the discontinuation of McIntyre Powder usage, Ontario’s WSIB initiated automatic compensation for miners who developed Parkinson’s disease as a result of exposure. The province officially apologized in 2022.
Janice Martell, the creator of the McIntyre Powder Project, expressed her approval of the government’s dedication to establish a provincial database documenting occupational exposure to a broader array of harmful substances.
“In order to stop the recurring problem of occupational disease, we must thoroughly examine the factors workers are being exposed to and understand their specific health concerns,” Martell stated during an interview.
Martell’s father, Jim Hobbs, inhaled McIntyre Powder while working as a miner and died in 2017 of Parkinson’s. She spearheaded the effort to gather the names and health status of former miners who had been exposed, crucial evidence toward establishing its link with disease.
Martell stated that workers have been in contact with substances for an extended period, substances that are acknowledged to be harmful.
When we visit a doctor, the doctor typically inquires about our family medical history and lifestyle habits, such as alcohol consumption and smoking. It is common for doctors to ask about our occupation and potential workplace hazards during medical appointments.
On Tuesday, the government will also unveil additional measures such as enhanced monitoring of silica exposure in the construction and mining sectors. Additionally, they will establish an occupational illness leadership table consisting of industry experts and worker advocates to provide guidance on implementing the recommendations outlined in the report.