Tens of thousands of Ontario workers were compensated last year after falling ill from exposure to toxins at work, but a new report commissioned by Premier Doug Ford’s government says many cases of illness are being missed related to the workplace.
The report, to be released Tuesday, is an independent review of Ontario’s system for preventing and responding to occupational diseases, such as cancers, lung conditions or neurological disorders related to the work environment.
The report says workers may have difficulty getting a quick diagnosis or compensation, all because symptoms may not appear until long after exposure to a toxin.
“Employers, health care providers and workers themselves often overlook the crucial link between workplace exposure and disease symptoms,” says a draft of the report, which the government provided to Breaking: before your publication.
In 2022, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) approved more than 40,000 claims for occupational illnesses, defined as a “condition resulting from exposure to a physical, chemical or biological agent in the workplace.” job”.
Government tidy the review last year and commissioned the MAP Center for Urban Health Solutions at St Michael’s Hospital to produce the report.
“Ontario’s health and safety system and the healthcare system are not well connected. Workers must navigate between the work and healthcare environment alone,” the report says.
Among the report’s key recommendations:
- Launch a public awareness campaign on occupational diseases, focused on the link between work and health.
- Create a surveillance system for occupational diseases.
- Improve the medical examination system in the workplace.
In response to the report, Ontario’s Labor Minister will announce plans on Tuesday for a new system to track illnesses and long-term illnesses contracted at work.
Provincial officials told Breaking: the government will commit to creating Canada’s first occupational exposure registry, a move Labor Minister David Piccini says will speed up the diagnosis of workplace-related illnesses and improve compensation. from the workers.
“We know that there are people who still get sick because of their work and they need to have the confidence of knowing that they and their loved ones will be cared for, and this is not happening enough,” Piccini said in an interview. .
Ford named Piccini labor minister last month to replace Monte McNaughton, who resigned from his position to take a position in the private sector.
Causal links between some diseases and exposure to certain workplace toxins are clear, such as cancer, mesothelioma and asbestos.
In other situations, workers or former workers have faced long battles to prove that their job was the cause of their illness.
Such was the case for thousands of northern Ontario miners who were forced to inhale aluminum oxide dust called McIntyre Powder, a substance their employers told them would protect them from silicosis, a lung disease.
Instead, many of these miners developed other lung ailments or neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
It was only in recent years, some four decades after use of McIntyre Powder ceased, that Ontario’s WSIB began automatically compensating all miners who developed Parkinson’s after exposure. The province issued a formal apology in 2022.
Janice Martell, founder of the McIntyre Powder Project, said she welcomes the government’s commitment to create a provincial registry of occupational exposures to a broader range of toxins.
“We’re not going to break the cycle of occupational diseases unless we look at what workers are exposed to and what their health problems are,” Martell said in an interview.
Martell’s father, Jim Hobbs, inhaled McIntyre Powder while working as a miner and died in 2017 from Parkinson’s. She led the effort to collect the names and health status of former miners who had been exposed, crucial evidence in establishing her link to the disease.
“Workers have been exposed to things for years, things that we know are toxic,” Martell said.
“When we go to see a doctor, the doctor will ask about your family medical history, ask about lifestyle factors: ‘Do you drink? Do you smoke?’ How often have we been asked in our doctor’s office, ‘What does he do? What is he exposed to in his workplace?'”
Other measures the government will announce Tuesday include better monitoring of silica exposure in the construction and mining industries and the creation of an occupational diseases leadership panel made up of industry experts and worker advocates to guide action on the report’s recommendations.