According to Sylvia Boyce, Health, Safety and Environment Coordinator with USW District 6, “Occupational diseases are the leading cause of death in Ontario. Most occupational diseases go unrecognized and undetected.”
Boyce shared this stark reality with delegates attending Thursday’s session of the OFL 2019 Power of Many Convention. The panel also included Natasha Luckhardt, the producer of “Town of Widows” and Janice Martell the founder of the McIntyre Powder Project from USW Local 2020. Aidan MacDonald, who is a Community Legal Worker and the President of OPSEU Local 5118, moderated the discussion.
The panel spoke about how an overhaul of Ontario’s WSIB system is required to achieve fairness and justice in the way that occupational disease claims are handled.
“The Power of Many is real,” said Martell. “We have to go after them and change things.”
Occupational diseases are health conditions (e.g., cancer, musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory diseases, etc.) that are caused by exposure to hazardous substances or environments in the workplace or as part of work activities. Recognizing and preventing occupational disease presents unique challenges, and requires the elimination or reduction of hazardous exposures, and the control of risks.
Keynote speaker, Victoria Arrandale, Assistant Professor of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health, stressed that Occupational Diseases are preventable.
“The burden of occupational disease is significant for individuals affected, their families and society,” said Arrandale. “Together, we can improve primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. No initiative is perfect, but action is needed.”
Occupational illness can look the same as other illnesses or diseases. For example, somebody with work-related asthma might have the same signs and symptoms as any other person with asthma. Ultimately, employers are responsible for protecting workers and regular workplace assessments are important to occupational health and safety.
“We as a movement can do better,” said Martell. “Government plans are only dedicated to containing the fallout from their injured workers not preventing illnesses and injuries in workplaces. Resources need to be put into prevention.”
Luckhardt said that solidarity in demands for change is essential. “We must forge allied forces in Ontario and around the world,” she said.