“Work-related cancer compensation to be reviewed by province” (CBC News, April 13, 2018)
This past Friday Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn announced the launch of a review of how occupational cancers are evaluated for workers’ compensation so “the system works properly for workers and their families.” The review, to be conducted by Dr Paul Demers (Director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre) and Cancer Care Ontario, is charged with ensuring the latest medical science and best practices are taken into account in determining work-relatedness.
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) recognizes certain cancers as occupational diseases linked to workplace exposure when the injured worker’s claim meets entitlement criteria (see Schedules 3 & 4 of O.Reg. 175/98 under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act; WSIB Operational Policy Manual’s Long-term exposures #16-0.2+ and Chronic exposures #23-02+)
“Where the link is murkier, at least in the view of the WSIB…”
However even types of cancers listed in the schedules aren’t always approved. As the Hamilton Professional Firefighters Association told the CBC in 2017, almost 80% of colon cancer claims they filed over the past 25 years had been denied, while entitlement to benefits for cancers not listed (e.g. pancreatic or liver) were hard to win despite evidence they were work-related. For workers exposed to multiple toxic substances evaluation for compensation poses a special problem, and is one of the issues to be addressed by the Demers review.
It is a situation that confronts many former workers of the General Electric Peterborough plant. A study of the plant led by occupational health researchers Bob and Dale DeMatteo found that of the more than 3000 toxic chemicals used there, at least 40 are either known or strongly suspected carcinogens. The Minister’s announcement comes when the WSIB is three-quarters through a review of 250 previously-denied claims, many of them cancer cases, from the GE workers – and a day after Peterborough claimant Roger Fowler, waging a struggle for compensation since 1992, finally had his claim for colorectal cancer accepted by the Board. His is one of 60 cases so far reviewed and accepted (another 66 have had their original denial upheld). At a rally outside Queen’s Park last month family members of the Peterborough claimants asked the province to expedite occupational disease claims. Following the announcement of the new review launched, the UNIFOR-GE Advisory Committee, which represents hundreds of workers and widows, expressed their concerns over its objectivity and the delay for claimants that another study represents. While Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal said the review would start immediately, no estimated completion date has yet been made public.
(A reminder: “Occupational disease: the other workplace fatality” is the theme of this year’s upcoming Justice for Injured Workers Bike Ride.)
- Kovach, Joelle. 2018 Apr. 13. “Government Plans to Review Handling of Workplace Cancers in Wake of GE Peterborough Case.” Peterborough Examiner
- Grant, Tavia. 2017 Oct. 4. “Workplace Carcinogens Lead to Thousands of Cancer Cases in Ontario Each Year – Study.” Globe and Mail