Ontario Plans to Implement New System to Monitor Job-Related Illnesses

Ontario Plans to Implement New System to Monitor Job-Related Illnesses
In 2022, Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) allowed 40,185 occupational disease claims. (Shutterstock/Una Shimpraga)

A groundbreaking initiative to monitor workplace-related diseases is being set in motion by the Ontario government after a revealing report indicated numerous instances of job-related illnesses being overlooked.

Missed Connections Between Work and Illness

Many Ontario workers, exposed to harmful toxins while on duty, have faced significant challenges in seeking diagnoses and compensation for their illnesses, a report commissioned by Premier Doug Ford’s government revealed. The primary reason being the delay in symptoms’ manifestation post-exposure.

“The crucial link between exposures at work and symptoms of disease is often missed by employers, health-care providers and workers themselves,” the draft report, provided in advance to CBC News, states.

Last year alone, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) of Ontario approved over 40,000 claims for occupational diseases, defined as conditions resulting from exposure to various agents in workplaces.

Gap Between Health and Safety Systems

The report, produced by the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St Michael’s Hospital, emphasized the lack of synergy between the province’s health and safety systems. “The Ontario health and safety system and the healthcare system are not well connected. Workers must navigate between the work and healthcare landscapes on their own,” the report stated.

Key Recommendations and Government’s Response

The report’s pivotal recommendations include:

  • Launching a public awareness drive regarding occupational diseases, underscoring the ties between occupation and health.
  • Establishment of an occupational disease surveillance mechanism.
  • Enhancements to the workplace medical screening process.

Following these insights, Ontario’s labour minister will unveil a new system on Tuesday for monitoring diseases and chronic illnesses tied to occupational exposures.

Provincial authorities revealed the government’s commitment to launch Canada’s pioneering occupational exposure registry. Labour Minister David Piccini emphasized this system’s potential to expedite diagnoses and bolster worker compensation. “We know that there are people who still fall ill because of their job, and they should have the confidence to know that they and their loved ones will be taken care of, and this isn’t happening enough,” Piccini articulated.

Workplace injury

Historical Struggles for Workers

Certain occupational toxins, like asbestos leading to mesothelioma, have established direct links to diseases. Conversely, many workers have struggled for years to demonstrate the association between their jobs and their illnesses.

A stark example is the northern Ontario miners who were coerced into inhaling McIntyre Powder, falsely claimed to guard against silicosis. The aftermath saw many contracting other respiratory or neurological conditions like Parkinson’s.

Janice Martell, founder of the McIntyre Powder Project, lauded the government’s steps towards this initiative. “We’re not going to break the cycle of occupational disease unless we look at what workers are exposed to and what their health issues are,” Martell expressed.

Furthermore, Martell underscored the significance of probing occupational exposures during medical check-ups, a frequently overlooked factor.

Upcoming Measures

The provincial government will also announce improved monitoring methods for silica exposure within the mining and construction sectors. An “occupational illness leadership table” comprising industry experts and worker representatives will also be constituted to steer the recommendations into actionable strategies.