TORONTO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) must immediately enact policy changes, recommended by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC), to recognize more workplace cancer claims by Ontario workers, the United Steelworkers (USW) says.
A report by OCRC Director Dr. Paul Demers notes that an estimated 3,000 occupational cancers occur every year in Ontario, but only about 400 compensation claims are made by workers and survivors to the WSIB, with only 170 claims accepted.
“Recognition of work-related cancers is the first necessary step to preventing them in the future,” says USW Ontario Director Marty Warren.
The report by the OCRC’s Demers, released recently by the Ministry of Labour, points out that Ontario lags far behind major European countries in the recognition of occupational cancers claims.
Ontario’s policies and regulations on specific cancers are often unfairly restrictive and have not kept pace with findings of respected scientific bodies like the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the report states. Demers recommends two new policies be enacted to better assess exposure to multiple carcinogens and the relationship between occupational and non-work exposures.
Such policy changes are overdue and are crucial in providing justice to victims of occupational cancers and to improve prevention, the USW’s Warren says.
“The science has been there for years and this report was turned in six months ago. Carcinogens don’t cancel each other out or operate in a vacuum. Asbestos, diesel exhaust, silica, tobacco smoke and arsenic aren’t competing inside the lungs. They act together and multiply each other’s cancer-causing effects,” he says.
“If the WSIB and Ministry of Labour don’t act on the Demers policy agenda immediately, it’s a sign that they have no intention of acting at all.”
The USW is endorsing the Ontario Federation of Labour’s (OFL) demand that the WSIB suspend overly restrictive cancer policies and enact the new policies on multiple exposures, recommended by Dr. Demers, by Labour Day.
The former Liberal government promised the Demers report before the June 2018 provincial election was called, but the new Conservative government only adopted the project last year, amidst aggressive lobbying by retired USW rubber workers from the Kitchener area.
“The big tire plants were all closed down by 2006, but the exposures to workers are still causing new cancers,” says former rubber worker Gord Assman, President of the local chapter of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR).
“Many workers who lost their good health, as well as surviving family members who were robbed of loved ones decades ago, are still fighting for fair decisions from the WSIB. No half-measures or PR baloney will ever shut us down or shut us up. They need to really fix this,” Assman says.
Although the WSIB last year reviewed 300 previously denied cancer claims from rubber workers, only about 30 decisions were reversed, Warren says. The rest of the claimants received letters saying their cases would be reviewed again – after the Demers report was submitted, he points out.
“Time’s up! These workers and their families deserve justice.”