DCN ARCHIVES

September 16, 2004

Doctors should report occupational disease, OHCOW tells WSIB

BY GRANT CAMERON

STAFF WRITER

Doctors in Ontario should be required to report instances where patients are suffering from an occupational disease, says the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW).

“Ontario workers face a silent epidemic of occupational disease,” Mary Cook, managing director of OHCOW, said in a brief presented Monday to the provincial Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

“Workers face a wide range of medical conditions that are related to their work but the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and society at large too often fail to recognize the connection between work and disease and then fail to compensate them for their illness.”

The recommendation for mandatory reporting of disease is one of nearly a dozen proposals OHCOW made to the board relating to a draft report by the chair of the Occupational Disease Advisory Panel.

OHCOW says the recommendations would contribute to a more just system of compensation for occupational disease.

Workers and their representatives at WSIB hearings should not have to prove that conditions in the workplace have made them sick, OHCOW said.

Meanwhile, OHCOW also called for the recreation of an independent body to advise the WSIB on occupational disease.

The board’s Occupational Disease Panel was abolished by the previous government.

The OHCOW brief suggested that many doctors are unable to diagnose and treat occupational diseases and it called for more training in Ontario medical schools.

OHCOW said the government should also create a database to track and understand occupational disease.

Although there are no reliable figures regarding the incidence of occupational disease in Canada, the evidence indicates that it is at epidemic levels—in excess of normal expectations, OHCOW said.

For instance, even conservative estimates of cancers caused by exposure to workplace carcinogens suggest the existence of about 2,000 new work related cancer cases in Ontario each year.

“In spite of thousands of possible cancer cases, the number of accepted claims for occupational cancer is infinitesimal,” said Cook, noting that in 2002, only 51 lost-time cancer claims were allowed by the WSIB.

“A major problem in recognizing and treating occupational disease is an over-reliance on science and statistics. When studying occupational disease, it is not always possible to collect sufficient data to achieve statistical significance.

“This contributes to the under-recognition of occupational disease and can put workers’ health in jeopardy.” Cook said the overreliance on scientific evidence ignores other forms of evidence that relate directly or indirectly to occupational disease.

“The board should also be looking at data such as employment and exposure history and testimony by co-workers.”

OHCOW has five clinics in Ontario. A team of nurses, hygienists, ergonomists and physicians see patients and identify workrelated illness and injuries, promote awareness of health and safety issues, and develop prevention strategies.

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