Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine
The union representing workers at a General Electric facility says it will continue to fight with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) over its decision to deny the claims of 150 of its members.
In 2004, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union organized an intake clinic with the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW). Almost 700 current and retired workers from the Peterborough, Ontario facility were checked for illnesses that could have been caused by working in the facility. The intake clinic resulted in 262 claims being filed with the WSIB, which accepted 112 claims and rejected 150.
The CAW said in a statement in May, 2012, that they were appealing the Board’s decision to reject the claims. “It was only after the number of common illnesses started to mount that any action was taken,” says CAW Pres. Ken Lewenza.
Leslie Piekarz, executive director of the Toronto OHCOW clinic where the workers were checked, says workers were diagnosed with lung cancer and asbestosis from asbestos exposure, as well as kidney, stomach and colon cancer, work-related asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and noise-induced hearing loss.
“The workers were exposed to a number of things. In this project, people think of asbestos, but there were many, many other chemicals that they work with in the manufacturing sector,” Piekarz says. Those chemicals include trichloroethylene, benzene, toluene, silica, lead and epoxy, and could have been either airborne or dermal exposures.
Sari Sairanen, the health, safety and environment director at CAW, says the reason given for denying many of the claims was the lack of information, medical or otherwise. “If claims are denied, we always look at appealing them because we believe there is a correlation with the exposures in the workplace and the medical condition,” Sairanen says. “This has been an ongoing process. Workers were exposed in the ’70s and ’80s.”
Asbestos –related illnesses have a latency period between 10 and 30 years, depending on the frequency and degree of exposure. “The claim will be allowed if the evidence supports a link between exposures and the disease,” WSIB spokesperson Christine Arnott says in an email, noting that each case will be looked at on its own merits.
Since I am centred in the Peterborough area, I felt it necessary to write about this particular issue since it hit so close to home.
I had to take my hat off to the union here for initiating an ‘Intake Clinic’ with OHCOW. It would have been quite an undertaking, making calls to hunt down current and long-time retired employees. The number of man-hours would have been staggering. To 112 former and current employees it was totally beneficial. The other 150 will have to wait their turn. Yes, there were probably many claims with little basis of facts but I wonder how many of the 150 will be given the green light and claim accepted.
In closing, I have to say that General Electric, in Peterborough, is a community leader in health and safety and the health and safety committee there is second to none. GE takes a zero tolerance position on all health and safety issues; not because they found these concerns, but because they are totally drive to better protecting their workforce and have been for many, many years. I guess this ‘Intake Clinic’ is one way of showing how GE has worked hard on behalf of their workers.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season.
Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”
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Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.