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April 30, 2008
Don't put smokescreen over
occupational cancer, OFL urges
"It has been hard not to notice the strong focus cancer
organizations have put on smoking in recent decades, said Irene Harris. "This
is good, but why aren't we applying that to the other 50 carcinogens that we
know are in workplaces?""
Day of mourning sparks call for action in workplace
Posted By Michael Purvis
Doctors, government, and cancer societies
need to stop looking at cancer as a lifestyle issue if society wants to
seriously address occupational disease, says the secretary-treasurer of the
Ontario Federation of Labour.
It has been hard not to notice the strong focus cancer
organizations have put on smoking in recent decades, said Irene Harris.
"This is good, but why aren't we applying that to the other
50 carcinogens that we know are in workplaces?" she said in an interview with
The Sault Star.
Harris addressed a crowd gathered at the United Steelworkers
Hall for a national Day of Mourning, which pays tribute to those who have been
killed or injured in the workplace.
Mike DaPrat, president of United Steelworkers of America
Local 2251, the largest union at Algoma Steel Inc., called the occupational
disease issue "huge."
"Had we been tracking occupational disease the way we should
have been, we would have been able to target the areas where we have to
improve," said DaPrat.
Next week, on May 7 and 8, the USW plans to hold clinics for
those affected by occupational disease.
The union's target audience is more than 11,000 current and
former Algoma Steel Inc. Employees; it says an estimated 1,000 to 1,100 current
and former employees, and surviving family members, have the potential for
occupational disease claims.
Union officials scheduled the clinics after the Workplace
Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) earlier reported that 40 former ASI
employees, with approved occupational disease claims, had died over six years,
between December 2001 and December 2007.
Sixty occupational disease claims have been forwarded to
WSIB since January, according to the union.
"No one, up until now, in Sault Ste. Marie spoke up for
these people," DaPrat told the hall.
"On May 7 and 8 we're going to do something
that will hopefully assist these people, these ongoing people who are
suffering, the widows, the children," he said.
Harris said similar situations exist all over the province
and are just now being addressed because of the long period of time it has
taken for cancer and other ailments to show up.
In the meantime, too little has been done to help prevent
the same thing from happening to new generations, she said.
Clinics such as the Sault's should go a long way toward
identifying what kinds of chemicals cause what kinds of cancers, said Harris.
"That will likely show patterns, types of exposures to
things, what kinds of cancers are people showing up with now," she said. "Then
you can go back and correct that."
Government should also require chemicals and processes be
deemed safe before they are implemented, she said.
"Ideally the government would require every employer and
union to look at their workplaces and analyze that, but the laws aren't strong
enough to force us all to sit down and take a look at it," said Harris. "If you
don't have the employer's co-operation, it's very difficult to demand."
Society has its own part to play, she said.
"Really, the medical profession, our cancer societies, our
government need to take a look at (the fact) cancers are not lifestyle issues,
they're about what people were exposed to along the way, either at work or in
their communities," said Harris. "Until we start to do that, there's not going
to be a real revolutionary look at occupational disease."
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