HALIFAX, N.S. – The number and rate of occupational injuries continue to decline in Nova Scotia, as the latest annual report from the province’s Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) has revealed a new historic low. Published on June 15, the report revealed that the WCB had received 5,847 time-loss claims in 2016, a decrease from 6,014 in the previous year, while the province had also seen a workplace injury rate of 1.74 time-loss injuries per 100 covered workers, also an all-time record. In addition, there were only two workplace fatalities due to traumatic injuries in 2016, along with 18 deaths from workplace-related disease. There was a 20 per cent decrease in time-loss injuries from slips, trips and falls from 2015, and injuries in the fishing sector also went down. But sprains, strains and back injuries continued to account for a large percentage of injuries in the province, according to the report. “Our time-loss injury rate… has been improving every year for the past decade. There are also thousands fewer claims than there were ten years ago and close to 300,000 fewer days lost to workplace injury,” WCB CEO Stuart MacLean noted in a press statement. “That’s great progress, but there is still a lot more work to do.” The report is accessible online at http://www.wcb.ns.ca/Portals/wcb/WCB_Nova-Scotia_AR_2016%20FOR%20POSTING.pdf?ver=2017-06-15-101440-820.
WHITEHORSE, Y.T. – The Yukon government is planning to follow the leads of Ontario and Alberta this year by adding a presumption clause to the Workers’ Compensation Act for first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – meaning that afflicted workers would not have to prove that their illnesses are work-related to collect benefits. In addition, the government is considering amending the territory’s Occupational Health and Safety Act to address workers’ mental health. The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board (WCB) launched a public consultation about these issues on June 5, according to a news release from the Board, and it is asking for input from employers and other stakeholders on possible legislative updates. The WCB seeks responses to two questions – whether other occupations should also be considered for PTSD presumption, and whether the respondent would support legal amendments aiming to prevent mental-health injuries at work. “While a PTSD presumption for emergency-response workers is a good first step,” said WCB chair Mark Pike in a press statement, “preventing workplace mental-health injuries is equally important.” Interested individuals and organizations can submit their answers online at http://www.wcb.yk.ca/Consultations/PTSD/PG-0045.aspx.
TORONTO, Ont. – Hundreds of injured-worker advocates held a rally at the Ontario legislature on June 1, which was Injured Workers’ Day. According to a news release from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW Canada), the demonstration was a protest against the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s (WSIB) cuts to prescription-drug benefits and against the practice of reducing workers’ compensation because of pre-existing conditions. “Workers are still being blamed and punished for injuries suffered on the job,” UFCW Canada national president Paul Meinema said in a media statement. “We must continue to fight for the comprehensive coverage that all injured workers are entitled to, while also pressing the government to provide stricter enforcement of safety laws.” The WSIB cut spending on prescription drugs by one-third from 2010 to 2015, according to information from the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario.
Almost nine years after her husband died of a supposed heart attack during a work stint at a Vale Canada smelter in Thompson, Man., Lila Fifi still has questions – and is unsatisfied with the answers she has received.
At about 5 a.m. on Nov. 6, 2008, David Fifi phoned her unexpectedly from where he was staying with their son. His voice was hoarse, his breath coming out in short gasps. “He could hardly even speak,” recalled Lila Fifi. An ambulance took him to a local hospital, but he passed away shortly after 8 a.m. that day.
David, 52, was a boilermaker who was part of a team hired earlier that year to install a new electrostatic precipitator (ESP) at the Thompson smelter. Although his death was officially deemed due to natural causes, Lila Fifi is not convinced it was that simple: she believes he was exposed to high levels of toxic gas through leaks and holes in the flue line at the facility – and that he was not the only one. She is still trying to get the federal government and other authorities to initiate some kind of public inquiry or investigation into what really happened.
“He was blasted for three times a day for six days in a row, and there’s not one citation,” said Fifi. “The day that David passed away, they shut that job down for two days, and they put it up and running, and they haven’t done anything.” Workplace Safety and Health (WSH), the provincial government oh&s authority, did investigate the fatality, but ceased the investigation when the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (CME) ruled that David’s death was not work-related. Fifi was denied survivor’s benefits from the worker’s compensation board.
Cory McPhee, Vale Canada’s vice president of corporate affairs, told COHSN that the company had provided proper respiratory protection and gas monitors for the group hired to replace the ESP in 2008.
“They had procedures in place for dealing with gas, all of those procedures were followed, there were other workers there, there were no other exposures. Everything had been fairly normal,” said McPhee, stating that nothing unusual had happened in the days leading up to David Fifi’s death.
“There’s nothing to connect this to any workplace exposure,” he added. “That does nothing to take away from the tragedy of him losing his life, but it certainly was not workplace-related.”
An e-mailed response from WSH stated that its 2008 investigation had “concurred with the determination” by the CME that David Fifi had “died as a result of natural causes.”
But witness reports from a few of David’s work colleagues on the day after his death suggest another scenario. According to a series of statements obtained by COHSN, four co-workers told WSH investigator Dennis Fontaine that David and others had been ill for about a week before the tragedy.
“We got high gas at least three times a day for at least six days,” foreman Sean Mcelmoyle said on Nov. 7, 2008. “All members of the crew, including myself, are ill right now.”
Mcelmoyle passed away after David did, according to Lila Fifi, who said that a friend of hers had tried to convince Mcelmoyle to quit at the Thompson smelter shortly after David’s death. “His wife doesn’t know why he died,” said Fifi.
Another boilermaker, Doug Bell, told Fontaine that David had been “coughing a bit” on the day before his death. In addition, the workers did not have a sufficient number of gas monitors on the job, he claimed.
“We were constantly getting gassed from at least four different stacks,” said Bell. “This cuts right through your respirators, so no matter how you try to protect yourself, you can’t.” The gas was so thick that Bell could taste and smell it through his respirator, he described, “and it was making my eyes water.”
Safety rep Dean Bull questioned whether the workers had been using the right kinds of gas monitors in his statement. Meanwhile, fellow boilermaker James Keck stated that he had gone to the hospital on the morning of Nov. 3, 2008 because he had been “vomiting after work, had a problem standing up, felt hot and [felt] a tingling in my hands.”
After her husband’s passing, Lila Fifi began to attend safety meetings at Vale and discuss issues with other employees. “And there were lots of concerns there,” she said. “You know how many things we saw in there that there were deficiencies, and nothing was done about it.”
She has accused Vale and the Manitoba government of suppressing information about toxic exposures at the Thompson smelter. “They must be doing some kind of elbow rubbing,” she said.
“Why isn’t anything being done? The people that know. Nobody’s doing anything. I can’t believe it,” said Fifi. “Today, Vale’s operating as they were before. Nothing’s being done.
“Why isn’t there somebody turning around and being a whistleblower?”
Located about 740 kilometres north of Winnipeg, Vale’s nickel operations in Thompson currently employ around 1,500 people at a mill, smelter and refinery, according to information from the company website.
More than 200 prison employees with the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO) took part in information pickets at 49 federal correctional facilities nationwide on May 16, to call attention to the need for a new collective agreement. Among the union’s demands is for recognition of their “unique” working conditions involving daily physical or verbal abuse.
The union’s last collective agreement expired three years ago, and bargaining meetings with Correctional Service Canada (CSC) since then have not reached an agreement, according to an UCCO press release. For one, the workers want the employer to recognize that correctional officers are extremely susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the dangers of their occupation.
“We never get the recognition as first responders, which is absolutely terrible, because we’re doing all of the first responders’ jobs inside, every day,” said UCCO president Jason Godin. “So if you look our first responders on the street, the paramedics, the firefighters and the police, we actually have to do all of those jobs behind the walls of the penitentiary.”
For example, he elaborated, officers have to intervene in confrontations or confiscate drugs, but also have to apply first aid when inmates are injured. “Just before Christmas last year, we had a major riot at a Saskatchewan penitentiary, where correctional officers were ordered to put out fires.”
The union is also lobbying for provincial governments to pass presumptive legislation for correctional officers with PTSD – meaning that an officer could collect workers’ compensation without needing to prove that his or her illness was work-related. “In Alberta,” said Godin, “they adopted presumptive legislation for first responders, but they excluded correctional officers. Same as New Brunswick.”
He noted that a recent study of occupational stress injuries in the correctional system stated that 36 per cent of officers suffered from PTSD. The report, which was presented in the House of Commons, made 15 recommendations – “and not one of them got adopted, which is disappointing.”
In an e-mailed response to COHSN, communications advisor Julia Scott stated on behalf of CSC that the employer recognizes the challenges of working in a correctional facility and takes officers’ mental health very seriously.
“CSC staff may be witness to stressful and traumatic events, including death and violence, and, consequently, may be more vulnerable to developing certain mental-health issues, including PTSD,” wrote Scott.
She added that CSC has a number of support programs in place, including Critical Incident Stress Management and a training module called Road to Mental Readiness. The latter was first used by the Department of National Defence (COHSN, Feb. 2, 2016) and has since been adapted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada for first responders.
“We continue to work with staff and union representatives to address the issue of stress and mental health,” said Scott. “Entitlement to benefits for workplace injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder, is defined and determined by workers’ compensation boards.”
Godin said he felt that federal leaders had failed to live up to their promises in this area. “The Trudeau government campaigned on the importance of mental health in the workplace and certainly campaigned a lot around the first-responder piece,” he said. “It’s disappointing.
“When you campaign on certain things, and then you don’t deliver,” he said, “the focus seems to be more on the inmate than the correctional officers.”
Godin has testified in Parliament about how correctional officers have to act as three kinds of first responders. “It was interesting to see how the MPs reacted,” he said. “They think that all we do is, we’re guards, we just walk around, and I guess we open and close doors, and everything’s hunky-dory.”
UCCO’s next negotiating session is scheduled for May 24 to 26 at Treasury Board Secretariat in Ottawa.
Workers at a General Electric (GE) facility in Peterborough, Ont. were exposed to more than 3,000 toxic chemicals for more than half a century, with some employees developing terminal diseases, according to an explosive study by the Advisory Committee on Retrospective Exposures.
Authored by occupational-health researchers Bob and Dale DeMatteo and published on May 18, The Report of the Advisory Committee on Retrospective Exposure Profiling of the Production Processes at the General Electric Production Facility in Peterborough, Ontario 1945-2000 revealed that workers had been exposed to at least 40 confirmed or suspected carcinogens from the end of World War II to the turn of the century.
The 183-page report was released at a media conference at Peterborough’s Royal Canadian Legion branch on the afternoon of May 18, according to a press release from Unifor, a national union that represents more than 310,000 workers. Former GE employee Sue James and Unifor national representative Joel Carr joined the authors at the event, which was attended by other GE retirees and relatives of deceased claimants.
“These GE workers have suffered horrific and often terminal diseases at a disproportionate rate, yet approximately half of the compensation claims filed have been rejected, abandoned or withdrawn due to what was deemed to be insufficient proof,” said Carr. “This report provides much needed evidence to allow the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to reopen and support these claims.”
James said that many of her former GE colleagues had died, including her father, a longtime employee who had developed tumours in his lung and spine.
“I’ve seen the results. I’ve been to the funerals,” said James.
Unifor plans to present the study to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), Ontario’s workers’ compensation authority. The union claimed in a separate release that 31 of its members were former GE employees with WSIB claims for work-related illnesses, including cancer.
The DeMatteos wrote in the report introduction that the study was intended to address GE employees’ concerns that their working conditions had been misrepresented and ignored.
“The major source of this information came from the workers themselves, through a series of intensive focus group[s] and key informant interviews that went on for over eight months,” the report read. “This information was corroborated by government inspection reports… in addition to joint health and safety committee minutes, internal memoranda and industrial-hygiene literature.”
“This report provides a powerful narrative of what the workers, and the community, already know to be true,” said Carr in a statement.
The Report of the Advisory Committee on Retrospective Exposure is available online at http://www.unifor.org/sites/default/files/documents/document/ge_advisory_cmtt_report_may_15_final_for_web.pdf.
SAINT JOHN, N.B. – New Brunswick’s workers’ compensation board is urging workers in the province to protect their hearing, warning that exposure to extreme noise can cause permanent damage. In a May 16 news release, WorkSafeNB stated that it had paid $15.4 million in workers’ compensation to workers who had been diagnosed with noise-induced hearing loss in 2016. The board has also provided hearing aids and other services to more than 8,000 N.B. workers since 2007. “Noise-induced hearing loss needs to be taken seriously,” WorkSafeNB acting president and CEO Tim Petersen said in a press statement. “Unlike a cut or fracture, it’s rarely painful and usually develops gradually over time, but it can have debilitating effects.” The organization announced in the release that it was launching a campaign to encourage workers in noisy environments to wear hearing protection like earmuffs and earplugs. “We want to raise awareness… of the prevalence and seriousness of this occupational disease,” said Petersen, “so workers don’t need to live with its debilitating effects for the rest of their lives.” Employers in the province must provide hearing protection in workplaces where the noise level exceeds 90 decibels, as per the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
TORONTO, Ont. – Ontario’s workers’ compensation authority has created a Health and Safety Index to measure occupational health and safety in the province. Announced on May 11, the new Index will condense five categories of data – prevention, worker empowerment, workplace culture, enforcement and injuries – into one overall measure ranking how safe Ontario workplaces are and whether they are improving year by year, according to a news release from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). The Board will set a baseline from data gathered up to April of this year and begin publishing newer data with the overall measure every year starting in the summer of 2018. “The Health and Safety Index will give an overall view of Ontario’s workplaces, so that we know what’s working well and what needs to work better,” WSIB president and CEO Tom Teahen said in a press statement. “Everyone in Ontario has an interest in making workplaces as healthy and safe as possible.” The Index is the first tool of its kind in North America, and the WSIB stated that it hopes other workers’ compensation boards adapt its design for their own use.
PLYMOUTH, N.S. – A quarter of a century has passed since a methane-gas explosion killed 26 men at the Westray Mine in Plymouth, and memorial services across Nova Scotia will pay respect to the victims of the tragedy on May 9, according to a news release from the province’s Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB). Among the planned events are a daytime Memorial March and Service and an evening Memorial Service at the Westray Miners Memorial Park in New Glasgow; the day event features remarks by N.S. Labour Minister Kelly Regan. At the Museum of Industry in Stellarton, there will be a Celebration of Life reception at 8 p.m., with appearances by WCB CEO Stuart MacLean and representatives from the United Steelworkers. “Each fatality is a human story – of loss, of tragedy, of heartache,” MacLean said in a media statement on May 5. “Each is a preventable death. Each is a person who should be here today, but is not, because something happened at a workplace.” The tragedy led to the eventual adoption of the Westray Law, a provision in the federal Criminal Code that calls for criminal prosecution for negligence after workplace fatalities.
FREDERICTON, N.B. – The government of New Brunswick announced on May 4 that it is going to conduct a value-for-money audit of WorkSafeNB, the province’s workers’ compensation board, and assign a task force to examine the organization. A news release from the Ministry of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour stated that the task force will include employer and worker representatives, headed by a neutral party from outside of the province; the group will evaluate WorkSafeNB’s financial situation, the legislation that governs it and its overall objectives and effectiveness. In addition, the province’s Auditor General will determine whether the board is administering programs as efficiently as it can, with respect to the Auditor General Act. “While employers and industry have expressed concerns about the rising premiums for businesses regarding workers’ compensation,” said Donald Arseneault, New Brunswick’s Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, in a press statement, “we must also recognize that these funds are used to pay benefits to injured workers and that premiums remain relatively low.” The plan was applauded by the N.B division of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and by the New Brunswick Building Trades Council.