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Groups work together to create Occupational Disease Reform Alliance

Alliance working to make changes to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board system.

PHOTO: Supplied/Janice Martell

There are four known canisters of McIntyre Powder, that were used between 1943 and 1979. Janice Martell worked to prove the powder made workers sick, including giving some Parkinson’s, like her father. Her group has joined others in the province to improve the WSIB system.

Eight groups in Ontario that focus on workplace safety are joining together to try and create change within the province.

The new group is called the Occupational Disease Reform Alliance and members of it said they want to make changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) system.

“Workplace illnesses can affect anyone β€” from cancer, respiratory disease or hearing loss. The challenge with occupational disease is that people who are sick may not connect their symptoms to exposures they had at work,” Sylvia Boyce, USW District 6 Health and Safety Co-ordinator said.

“One of the big problems is latency. People may have symptoms over the years but not know what is causing them and they don’t make the link to their workplace exposures β€” that often doesn’t happen for many, many years.”

Boyce said her group is calling for several things to change.

“The demands are simply compensation for occupational disease claims when workplace patterns exceed levels in the surrounding communities, expand the list of diseases presumed to be work related, use the proper legal standard, not scientific certainty, and expect that multiple exposures combined cause disease,” she said.

‘Need to compensate’

One group now a part of the Occupational Disease Reform Alliance is the McIntyre Powder Project, which was founded by Janice Martell seven years ago.

Her project worked to find evidence to establish a link between forced aluminum dust exposure among miners and neurological disease.

Martell’s father died of Parkinson’s Disease. A study facilitated by the WSIB found the practice of inhaling the powder put workers at a higher risk of the disease.

She said the miners she’s been working with have accepted their illnesses, but tell her they don’t want the same fate for their grandchildren.

“I promised them that I would try and make some changes and this is part of my promise to them,” she said.

Martell said the newly formed group does not have “crazy demands.”


Janice Martell is with the McIntyre Powder Project.Β (Supplied/Janice Martell)


“We’re asking that if you see a group of workers who have diseases who are elevated beyond what you’d see in a community, you need to look at that,” she said.Β 

“You need to compensate for that.”

Martell said she’s hopeful the creation of the group will lead to more change.

“We’re not going to stop until it does,” she said.

“These demands deal with the worker’s compensation legislation in Ontario, specifically, but there’s other things that need to change as well in order to help move the needle forward on occupational disease prevention.”

Another person to join the alliance is Jessica Montgomery with USW Local 2020 in Sudbury. She is representing former workers with the Neelon Casting Foundry.

With files from Kate Rutherford


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