Occupational exposure series: Compensation board gave green light to more than $87 million in benefits and support in 2020
Advocates supporting victims of occupational exposures have recently criticized the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) for not taking the health and safety of workers seriously enough – notably with regards to compensation claims.
However, the WSIB says that in 2020, they allowed 23,000 occupational disease claims which made up over $87 million in benefits and support.
“The WSIB is here to help and wants everyone to receive the compensation they are entitled to,” says Rosanna Muia, Executive Director, Operations at the WSIB.
“We do our best to make decisions on claims as quickly as possible. In some instances it may take longer than any of us would like as we must obtain medical, employment and exposure information from many years ago.”
In addition, the organization tries to be as transparent as possible and publishes statistics on its website, notably for identified occupational disease cohorts.
Speaking about the Ventra/Pebra Plastics cluster, Muia says that contrary to what has been said, the organization has allowed around 69 per cent of the claims adjudicated (there have been around 121 decisions made so far).
“It is possible that some people may mistakenly believe that a claim was filed on their behalf, but the documents were not submitted to the WSIB. It’s important to note that they must have a claim registered with the WSIB and have a WSIB claim number to be sure we have received and reviewed their claim,” says Muia.
If someone wants to know if they have a claim, they should contact the WSIB directly.
“We don’t want anyone to miss out on receiving the benefits and services they deserve. If someone hasn’t yet filed a claim but believes they have a work-related illness, we encourage them to contact us and file a claim.
"They don’t have to worry if they’re not sure that their illness resulted from their work. That’s our job. It’s always the WSIB's responsibility to gather all of the relevant information to determine whether someone’s illness is work-related.”
Another criticism levelled at the WSIB is the lack of clarity over claims decisions. So how exactly does the WSIB make a decision on a claim?
“We use the most up-to-date scientific evidence available as well as information about all of the person’s illnesses, workplace exposures and other relevant factors. In some cases, evidence linking a person’s workplace exposures to the development of a disease does not exist. As the scientific research related to occupational disease evolves, we continue to look for new information that may help with our evidence-based decision-making,” says Muia.
Muia explains that the WSIB makes its decisions with “the best information” that they have available at the time. If new information becomes available, then a reconsideration of a decision can be requested.
In addition, if someone disagrees with a decision, they may appeal through a two-level appeals process, which includes the independent Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT).
“We work closely with our system partners to provide support to the people who need us, including attending community sessions in Peterborough and Kitchener Waterloo to provide information to people with an occupational disease and their families,” says Muia.
For example, the organization is currently working with the Neelon Casting cluster advocates to help with the claims process.
In addition, in March 2021, the organization says that its staff attended an online Occupational Disease Summit organized by Sue James – a former GE worker who now advocates on their behalf – to listen to the concerns of the community.
Most recently, the WSIB has established a Scientific Advisory Table on Occupational Disease as part of its broader Occupational Disease (OD) strategy.
It has launched a consultation on the OD policy framework – submissions are open until January 31, 2022.
Muia also says that the organization is working closely with the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) and the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) to “identify opportunities to improve the process for filing occupational disease claims, as well as the gathering of information required for us to make decisions, to ensure role clarity and streamline the process for people with occupational diseases and/or their families.”
Says Muia: “As part of this work, we will soon be engaging more widely with all of our health and safety system partners including labour groups, employers, health care professionals and the health and safety community on opportunities and solutions aimed at improving the claim submission process and addressing wider system challenges, such as disease recognition by primary care providers, identified in the Demers’ report*.”
*An independent review commissioned by the MLTSD in January 2019. The report reviews scientific theories around cancer causation, challenges arising from the compensation system and other relevant practices. Published in 2020, the WSIB has said that it will carry out the recommendations identified in the report.
This is the seventh part of our series on occupational exposures. Over the coming weeks, COS will cotinue to shine a spotlight on the issue and speak with occupational disease advocates about the dangers of workplace exposures.