Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lethal Legacy: A Province' s Version Of Neoliberalism

The Toronto Star has run a heartbreaking series, very well-worth reading, on the fate of many of the employees of Peterborough's GE plant, whose lives were either cut short by, or are riddled with, disease thanks to exposure to a toxic brew of chemicals during their working lives.

Entitled Lethal Legacy, it is a story not only about the workers' tragedies but also Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, which has been quite reluctant to award compensation to the victims and their survivors. It all occurs within the context of an Ontario Liberal government that, through a pending bill, will make workplaces even more precarious venues than they already are.

First, a short profile from the series:
Despite working at the plant since he was 16, Ed Condon carried himself with a gentleness factory life didn’t afford him — never swearing, smoking or drinking. Retirement, his family hoped, would finally heal the bone-deep cracks in his hands, stop the nosebleeds he stubbornly brushed off. There would be more twilight drives down River Rd. with his wife, more rambles in the woods with his three grandchildren.

But Ed Condon always believed the chemicals would kill him first.
In the end, his family says, he was right.

“He had such amazing integrity and honour. And he was such an honest man,” says his daughter Cindy Crossley, who lost her father to an inoperable brain tumour in 2012.
Condon was certain his glioblastoma was caused by exposure to a toxic mix of chemicals:
In his final months, he took to carefully documenting the chemicals he worked with. The final list was 42 items long and included some of the world’s most deadly substances: arsenic; cyanide; vinyl chloride; asbestos; lead; benzene; DDT; epoxy resins; silica and cadmium.
Despite a workplace well-documented for its poisons, Condon and hundreds of other claimants to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board were denied compensation. Indeed, of the
660 compensation claims made to [the Board, only]... 280 have been accepted; more than half have been withdrawn, abandoned or rejected because of apparently insufficient evidence that the conditions were work related.
Survivors and those currently fighting disease have not given up their fight, but it appears to be much more of an uphill battle than it should be. While it is not easy matter to prove a causal relationship between exposure and illness,
a 2016 Supreme Court decision ruled that workers’ compensation
boards cannot demand definitive proof that an illness is work-related, especially since existing scientific research on occupational disease is sometimes inconclusive.

Instead, the Supreme Court said compensation boards must consider all available evidence and decide on the balance of probabilities whether a workplace contributed to a claimant’s illness. If so, workers are entitled to compensation. In borderline cases, the court said workers must be given the benefit of the doubt.
But the WISB, despite its poor record on approving claims, says
its “existing adjudication principles are consistent” with the Supreme Court decision and have not changed in response to it.
So how is their recalcitrance to be explained? The Ontario government appoints the board's directors, and it is led by former Conservative cabinet minister Elizabeth Witmer. The research I have done on the directors suggests members come from diverse backgrounds that do not suggest a preponderant corporate bias. As well, if one checks out this job posting on the WISB website, the requirements for, and the duties of, Advanced Practice Nurse suggests a real thoroughness in the discharge of duties there.

My next post will attempt to look more closely at board decisions as well as a pending Ontario bill that will make it harder to enforce health standards within the workplace.

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