Ontario Announces Occupational Cancer Review

There is finally, some encouraging news for Ontario workers suffering from occupational cancer and the families of those workers who have died from their illnesses.

The Ministry of Labour has announced it is launching a review of occupation cancer, with a report due by the end of 2019.

The government has named Dr. Paul Demers to lead the review. Dr. Demers is the director of the  Occupational Cancer Research Centre at Cancer Care Ontario and according to one medical colleague quoted in the press release, he is “eminently qualified to undertake this review”.

Demers doesn’t mince words when it comes to the WSIB and the challenges the current system presents:

“The workers’ compensation system is over 100 years old, and it hasn’t kept up with the times,” Demers said.  ‘It’s a very old system, and I don’t think it’s necessarily very well-designed for dealing with chronic diseases like cancer.’ ”

The review will examine and make recommendations in three areas:

  • How can scientific evidence best be used in determining whether a cancer is work related, particularly in cases of multiple exposures?
  • Are there any best practices in other jurisdictions that Ontario should consider adopting?
  • As scientific evidence evolves around occupational cancer, what criteria should the Ministry of Labour consider in developing legislative policy?

These recommendations will help the WSIB to assess new workplace cancer claims, and to reconsider hundreds of previously denied claims involving Peterbough GE plant workers and Kitchener rubber industry workers (one investigation showed that 85% of those claims were denied).

News of the review was met with mixed feelings by sick workers and their families and advocates. Sue James, a retired GE worker and advocate,  said that the review is long overdue, but noted that “unfortunately we are looking at another year before conclusions will be made and so many more will suffer or die while waiting to hear the outcome”.

In related news, in the same announcement, the Ontario government revealed they will be launching an Occupational Disease and Illness Prevention Strategy.