Advocacy group calling on compensation for N.L. asbestos miners

The Newfoundland and Labrador government must take immediate action to ensure fair compensation for the health problems suffered by former asbestos miners and their families, a new advocacy group says.
If necessary, the government should pass emergency legislation to ensure justice for former miners and their families, according to the Baie Verte Asbestos Miners Campaign, which includes former asbestos miners, workplace health and safety researchers and labour activists.

"The Baie Verte Miners Registry must not be put on the shelf. It must be used as an instrument to help deliver justice to former miners, their families and communities," the advocacy group states in a letter delivered to Premier Kathy Dunderdale, Dan Crummell, the minister responsible for the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission and to Leslie Galway, the commission's chief executive officer.

The Baie Verte Miners Registry, completed and released earlier in 2013, "confirms that most Baie Verte miners received more exposure to asbestos fibres in a matter of months than the law permits for a lifetime," the advocacy group states in its letter.

"Yet only 36 per cent of registrants with medically verified asbestos-related diseases who made claims for compensation were successful," the letter states.

Paul Demers, a leading authority on occupational cancers and a member of the Baie Verte Registry's scientific team, advised the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission in September that such extremely high levels of exposure should lead it to a "presumption of acceptance" for compensation claims. These include claims for all asbestos-related diseases, including gastro-intestinal cancers and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

The Baie Verte Asbestos Miners Campaign is now calling on the commission to take steps to implement key findings of the registry project, including:

• immediately exempt all former employees of the Baie Verte asbestos operations from restrictions on the recognition of a claim for asbestos- related diseases
• publicize this exemption
• provide resources for former miners who are not registered to register their medical and employment records and receive the appropriate exposure assessment
• accept applications to reconsider previous claims from Baie Verte miners, based on the new exemption
• ensure adequate resources for the Office of the Workers' Advisor to assist Baie Verte miners
• support a screening program for former workers and their families, to reduce the risk and the consequences of further incidence of asbestos-related diseases.

"In the event that these changes to commission policy and practice cannot be made expeditiously, we call upon the Legislature to pass emergency legislation to make it happen," the Baie Verte Asbestos Miners Campaign letter states.