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Ottawa firefighters join alliance seeking worker compensation reform

Coalition of workers includes miners impacted by McIntyre Powder, Sault steel employees

The Ottawa Professional Fire Fighters’ Association has joined a provincewide campaign pushing for changes to the worker compensation system overseen by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

Launched last October, the Occupational Disease Reform Alliance (ODRA) comprises workers and worker advocates who claim to have been impacted by workplace illness.

Among their founding members are representatives from Northern Ontario, including miners who inhaled McIntyre Powder at various mines across the region between 1943 and 1980; construction workers who built a boiler at the Weyerhaeuser pulp and paper mill in Dryden in the early 2000s; steel mill workers in Sault Ste. Marie; and former employees of now-closed Neelon Casting, which made brake parts, in Sudbury.

Doug McLennan, president of Local 162 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, noted that firefighters fought for and received the benefit of presumptive legislation for occupational cancers, yet their claims for compensation are still often denied.

“All too frequently these claims are denied by WSIB despite evidence of the multiple toxic exposures these firefighters faced while doing their jobs,” McLennan said in a letter of support for ODRA issued on Feb. 2.

“We must see WSIB expand the list of presumptions and ensure they are more broadly applicable to all workers.”

Upon their launch last fall, the alliance made four demands of the Ministry of Labour:

  • grant entitlement for occupational diseases when they exceed the level circulating in a community;
  • use available evidence of occupational disease in the workplace – including that gathered by workers and communities – as the standard for evaluating claims;
  • expand the list of compensable diseases that are presumed to be work-related, and possibly using the firefighters presumption list as a template; and
  • recognize claims diseases resulting from multiple exposures, carcinogens and irritants, rather than focusing on a single exposure or occupation.

Alliance chair Sue James said group members met with Labour Minister Monte McNaughton on Jan. 18, proposing changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act that would help usher in the changes.

McNaughton has not yet responded to the request.