Advocate 'not picking fights' but rather raising awareness about true figures
A vast discrepancy exists between the number of work related deaths officially reported by Ontario’s Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) and other Worker’s Compensation Boards (WCBs) across Canada and the actual number of people who died from a work-related injury or illness, according to the Workers Health & Safety Centre.
As Canada marked the National Day of Mourning with commemoration ceremonies and safety awareness rallies across the country this past weekend, a big focus was on worker deaths in 2022. The WSIB is reporting 242 deaths related to fatalities in the workplace and approved claims for occupational disease.
“We estimated the amount of worker deaths in 2022 was about 10 times higher than what the WSIB put through,” says Andrew Mudge, executive director of the Workers Health & Safety Centre. That would put the number of estimated worker deaths in Ontario in 2022 closer to 2,500.
Mudge says they arrived at this estimate by evaluating research from the Institute of Work and Health, the University of Washington, and a study conducted by the University of Ottawa. They all suggest workplace injuries and occupational disease are significantly underreported to the WSIB and WCBs.
“This routine of under recognition in many ways is an affront to the suffering of workers, their families and communities,” says Mudge. But in a statement to Canadian Occupational Safety, the WSIB says it can only report on the claims allowed.
“We appreciate the efforts of advocacy groups to raise awareness around workplace safety and the services and support the WSIB offers. This is a time and subject matter that calls for all of us to work together not pick artificial fights with each other.”
“I'm not trying to pick fights,” says Mudge, who claims the research is suggesting the numbers in Ontario and right across Canada are likely much higher than what is officially reported. “It's just drawing attention and awareness.”
Occupational diseases and the effects of long-term exposure to hazardous chemicals is believed to make up a large bulk of the cases that are not reported, because these illnesses have long latency periods. “There are people that could have been exposed to exhaust, sun exposure, silica, asbestos,” explains Mudge, “but we don't find out until the disease really manifests itself much later.”
Recently, there’s been a push across several provinces to recognize different types of cancers among firefighters as an occupational disease that can be eligible for compensation. Mudge suggests the intent of the advocacy of their organization is to push for these kinds of changes.
In its statement, the WSIB encourages anyone who thinks they may have a work-related illness to reach out. “If someone believes their exposure in the workplace has led to an occupational disease, they may be eligible for our services and support, and we encourage them to connect with us. We’re here to help.”
The number of work-related deaths in Canada is probably higher than what is reported by the WSIB and WCBs across the county. But it’s not because there’s an intentional attempt to keep the figures low, but rather the result of imperfect data collection and reporting.