Worker advocate calling for WSIB overhaul: McIntyre Powder Project founder wants independent reviews on occupational disease policy.

AuthorKelly, Lindsay

An advocate for workers' rights is calling on the province to establish an independent body to adjudicate fair and efficient evaluations on claims associated with work-related illness.

Janice Martell of Sudbury believes the current compensation system, which is overseen by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), is ineffective and should be entirely overhauled.

"They have a duty to look at what the evidence is telling us and to adjudicate fairly, transparently, and not what is going to please our employers," she said.

"They are failing miserably with respect to occupational diseases and that needs to be removed from them."

Martell founded the McIntyre Powder Project in 2015 to gather information on miners who had been intentionally exposed to McIntyre Powder while working in underground mines between 1943 and 1980.

She and others suspect the fine aluminum dust, created by executives at McIntyre Porcupine Mines as a preventive measure against silicosis, is the cause of various respiratory and neurological illnesses experienced by miners who had to breathe in the powder at the start of every shift.

One such miner is Martell's father, Jim Hobbs, who died in May, 2017, of Parkinson's disease.

As part of her research, Martell successfully submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request to the WSIB in 2018 and was sent 1,871 documents relating to McIntyre Powder.

Martell, who is currently working with the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), said it gave her great insight into what she considers the WSIB's shortcomings.

In particular, she's critical of what she believes is the organization's emphasis on mitigating risk and controlling its public image, rather than doing robust policy reviews and scientific research.

"There are good people working at the WSIB -1 have seen that evidence," Martell said. "But it's this 'Game of Thrones' structure of people in high bureaucratic, complex management systems who are really focused on 'how do we control our costs, how do we maintain our image.'

"They need to come out and have real conversations and really look at this, not just 'how do we mitigate our risk?"'

Martell contends that the claim evaluations, and the policies that guide them, are based on outdated information. Only three known studies have ever been conducted on the impacts of McIntyre Powder-in the 1950s, 1990 and 2013.

Yet new research conducted by Laurentian University PhD candidate Andrew Zarnke suggests that...

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