Historic Moment for Occupational Illness in Ontario

It’s a moment that injured workers and their allies have waited a long time for: the Ontario government has announced an independent review of which occupational illnesses will be eligible for compensation through WSIB.

What Is The Goal of the Review?

The review will “evaluate how occupational illnesses in Ontario are identified, monitored, and prevented.” The goal is to identify work-related illnesses more easily, and compensate sick workers more quickly.

It is the first time such a review will take place in the WSIB’s 100+ year existence. Under the current system, there is a significant onus on workers or their surviving family members to prove they should be covered by WSIB.  Many sick workers’ claims are never approved; others die before their claims are accepted.

One such example is Janice Martell’s fight to have her father’s Parkinson’s disease officially attributed to the McIntyre Powder he was forced to inhale while working as a nickel and uranium miner in northern Ontario. Martell began her quest to have WSIB accept that her dad’s illness was caused by the powder in 2015; tragically, he died before she succeeded in 2020. There are many other known clusters of occupational disease in Ontario where workers and widows are still having trouble getting their claims approved.

The review will build on the 2020 findings of Dr Paul Demers, whose independent review of occupational disease identified various problems and challenges within Ontario’s current workers compensation system.

In an interview with the Peterborough Examiner, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton acknowledged “There have been injustices that need to be fixed—and no one should be waiting decades for compensation.”

Who Will Do The Review?

The organization tasked with leading the independent review is the  MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.  In addition to their own internationally recognized scientists, the research team at MAP will also “consult with health and safety system partners including labour groups and workers’ rights advocates, employers, health care professionals and the health and safety community.”

How Long Will The Review Take?

Work on the review will begin immediately, and is expected to be complete by December 2022.

The Occupational Disease Reform Alliance says Ontario’s workers compensation system needs much more than just an independent review of occupational disease. According to ODRA chair Sue James, “What we’re looking for is something that would be concrete and significant to the systemic issues that we see.”  The group has called for four specific actions to better address occupational illness and the WSIB claims process.

To that end, Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates–who also serves as Official Opposition critic for Workers’ Health and Safety–has authored a private members bill that seeks to address the ODRA’s demands.

The news is welcome on this 2022 Day of Mourning, an event created in 1984 to remember workers whose jobs cost them their lives, and draw attention to the ongoing fight for safe working conditions and fair compensation for occupational injury and death.

At Van Dyke Law, we’re here to help workers and surviving family members with WSIB claims related to occupational illness or any other workplace injury. If you’ve been hurt or made sick on the job, please get in touch.