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Unions support bill on registry for occupational disease

Amendment to Labour Code passed first reading on June 14


(Canadian OH&S News) — Bill C-292, an Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (occupational-disease and accident registry), passed its first reading in the House of Commons in Ottawa on June 14.

The amendment to the bill by MP Sheri Benson of Saskatoon-West will require employers to report information about all accidents, occupational diseases and other hazardous occurrences known by the employer to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, who will have to maintain a registry containing all of that information and to make that information available to employees — past, present and potential — for examination.

Benson paid tribute to the late Howard Willems, who had been exposed to asbestos as part of his job as a food inspector for the government in Saskatchewan. Willems’ death led to the establishment of a mandatory asbestos registry in that province. “This bill would help inform and protect workers so that many more can come home safe at the end of their work day,” Benson said in reference to Bill C-292.

Bill Daniels, international vice president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, First District, said that the introduction of this private member’s bill was long overdue. “For decades, workers have been unknowingly exposed to hazardous substances while on the job, which has led to various health problems and even the ultimate sacrifice, their lives.”

He added that this change would have a positive effect on workers by allowing them access to pertinent information on the various hazards to which they could be exposed at work. “This is something every worker deserves to know.”

Bob Blakely, Canadian operating officer at Canada’s Building Trades Unions, said in a statement dated June 15 that the union was pleased to support the legislation, which it regards as an important component of federal leadership on workplace safety. The bill “is a long time coming and will create accountable partnerships in the workplace,” Blakely noted. “This bill will allow workers to know when and if workplaces are safe or unsafe.”

Canada’s Building Trades Unions look forward to continuing to work with MP Sheri Benson, as well as with provincial governments to pave the way towards a safer work environment for its members, the statement added.

Occupational disease is a disease or condition caused by work or exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. According to information from the federal government’s labour program, an average of slightly fewer than one million occupational injury claims have been reported each year by provincial or territorial workers’ compensation boards from 1996 to 2008. In 2008, there were approximately three occupational fatalities each day of the year and roughly one out of every 13,805 workers covered by provincial or territorial compensation systems died from an occupational injury. Factoring in direct and indirect costs, the total costs of occupational injuries to the Canadian economy is estimated to be more than $19 billion annually.