“Anxiety. Depression. Bankruptcy. One family’s battle with workplace injury.” / Sara Mojtehedzadeh (Toronto Star, Feb. 19, 2016)
Six years after a seemingly minor workplace injury which tore a ligament in his dominant arm, Matthew Harrison, a young worker sometimes juggling up to four jobs, now endures continuing pain, depression and poverty. “He has tried to end his life and his mother has declared bankruptcy… But far from helping, Harrison and his mother say the system meant to protect them — the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board — has driven them to the edge of despair.”
His experience of a physically and mentally exhausting struggle for fair compensation from the Board mirrors that of the many workers whose cases were detailed in the recent ONIWG/OFL “Submission to the Ontario Ombuds Office”. In the January 2016 submission advocates, injured worker groups, labour and health care providers call for an investigation into WSIB systematically ignoring treating doctor’s medical advice and unfairly cutting benefits.*
The Star, which reviewed 60 pages of Mr Harrison’s medical files and correspondence with WSIB, details the injured worker’s account of failed surgeries, minimal health care benefits, denial of workplace retraining. Contrary to the reports and recommendations of his treating doctor and orthopaedic specialist regarding his permanent nerve impairment and ongoing pain, the Board claimed Harrison to be fully healed. In what has become an increasingly common practice, the Board in attributing his ongoing symptoms to be partly related to a pre-existing condition — here, a too-long forearm – and only 10% to the workplace injury, has drastically limited his benefits. Without resources to retrain for a less physical job, the worker was forced to take on manual jobs until the pain became too unbearable to continue working.
As for many, the consequences of a workplace injury have affected not only the worker, but also his family. In Matthew’s case, the loss in household income has forced his mother to declare bankruptcy, with the threat of eviction looming over both.
(*The injured worker community echoes the Toronto Star February 21 editorial in alerting the new Ombudsman, Paul Dubé, that “Ontarians look to their ombudsman for protection from mistreatment by bureaucrats and politicians. It’s necessary for whoever does this work to be a vigilant watchdog, a tenacious advocate, and a bold voice ready to challenge authority..”