Local coalition helps workers with long-term compensation claims

General Electric

Making a compensation claim is a long, frustrating, and complex process to navigate on your own.

In order to remedy some of the stress that the process can create on already sick, injured, anxious, and vulnerable claimants, the Occupational and Environmental Health Coalition in Peterborough (O&EHC-P) has been dedicated to expanding their knowledge on the process and, in turn, have been using their experiences to help workers through the system.

The coalition consists solely of volunteers, and they tend to focus on the compensation claims process from a long-term disease standpoint, rather than an acute, specific injury standpoint.

The volunteers at the O&EHC-P have been especially busy in recent years because of the high number of people who have sought their help. Former employees of General Electric Peterborough, for instance, have used the resources at the O&EHC-P in filing for claims that address long-term latency exposures that have now caused severe illnesses and, in some cases, cancers.

When the GE-Peterborough plant first opened in the early 1900’s it had eight different manufacturing departments and employed thousands of people. There was a plastics department, a large motor department, a manufacturing department, an infrastructure department, even a nuclear equipment department within the plant.

People moved to Peterborough from all over the area to secure steady, full-time employment positions at the plant, and it soon became the biggest manufacturing plant in Canada. Peterborough’s economy boomed as a result.

Unfortunately, in the expansion and intensification of the manufacturing practices in the plant, health and safety precautions did not match the rapid extent at which GE-Peterborough was developing. For some workers, there was very little protective gear worn, for others there was very little information known about the chemicals they were working with.

For most all of the workers there was a blatant misunderstanding of the extent of the problems their exposures could create for their health in the future.

There were about 3000 different chemicals used in the plant (to different degrees), such as toluene, benzene, methane, propane, and butane. Long-term latency diseases, illnesses, and cancers, which could have been caused by their employment at the GE-Peterborough plant, have developed in many retired workers.

Asbestos, for example, was used extensively in many departments of the plant. It has a latency period of 20-50 years, which means that people might only notice the affects on their lungs 20-50 years later. The number of people who will be seriously and negatively affected by its latency was expected to peak between 2010-2015 (asbestos.com).

That is one of the main reasons why, if people have not already passed away due to their illness, they have sought out the O&EHC-P and asked for help in filing for occupational long-term latency compensation in recent years. The O&EHC-P offers support and guidance for these workers in their time of stress and need.

The compensation claims process tends to recognize the legitimacy of specific work-related injuries, while the link between workplace exposure, long latency periods and long-term illness or disease is lost in the complexity of the compensation claims process. With little support from unions, WSIB (who files the claims and ultimately provides the compensation) and employers like GE- Peterborough, it leaves sick workers and the volunteers at the O&EHC-P experiencing a constant uphill battle in receiving fair compensation for their health.

O&EHC-P continues to advocate for a Fair Review compensation claims Process and continues to dedicate a lot of time to helping those suffering with long-term latency illnesses through the system as best they can. They deserve heavy recognition for their hard work in helping claimants through the complexity that is the compensation claims process.

The O&EHC-P is always looking to improve their knowledge base and help more people with the compensation claims process. They welcome the collaborative opportunities that the Trent Community Research Centre offers through community-based research projects, for which students can receive credits for their work with the organization. The O&EHC-P would be thrilled for more scientific research to be done for their records.

For example, research concerning long-latency periods of exposures and chemicals, the effect of mixed exposures on one’s overall health, and linking disease to ones former/current occupation are topics the organization would be keen on facilitating.

If the work of this local organization interests you, for either academic purposes or personal reasons, I encourage you to contact Kathy Harris at kathy@harrisgroup.ca to see how you can get involved.

For information regarding the many opportunities offered by the Trent Centre by way of Community Based Education Projects, including opportunities with the O&EHC-P, visit their website at www.trentcentre.ca or contact 705- 743-0523, or e-mail info@trentcentre.ca.