After driving 14 hours from Northern Ontario to meet the Minister of Labour Chris Stockwell for 30 minutes, members of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) are cautiously optimistic the minister will act to reduce the occupational disease epidemic affecting miners.
Available statistics confirm that over the last 10 years there has been a resurgence of silicosis in Ontario. As of January 2001, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) reported 111 allowed silicosis claims, with another 19 claims pending.
Twelve claims have been established from miners working at Hemlo Mines in Northern Ontario, with many cases yet to be diagnosed, according to USWA.
"In our meeting with the minister of labour, we demanded immediate improvements from government," said Steelworkers'' Ontario/Atlantic Health and Safety Coordinator Nancy Hutchison. "Simply reinstating past procedures may vastly improve the current situation. We have asked for the restoration of the mining master file, which is a tracking system that allows miners to establish
occupational work histories and exposures. We need enforcement of work orders issued by Ministry of Labour inspectors. There must be safeguards and work accommodations available, with no loss of earnings, for miners diagnosed with silicosis."
Hutchinson also said the union wants possible new sources of silica exposure as a result of new mining methods to be investigated and USWA is asking the Ministry to provide competent chest x-rays and respiratory testing immediately.
"Since the mid-90''s, we have witnessed the dismantling of a system that was designed to protect mining industry workers," said Hutchison. "The Ministry must resume responsibility for chest x-rays and respiratory testing, and create an indisputable exposure paper trail for each and every miner working in Ontario."
USWA has launched a respiratory disease survey at all three Hemlo mines for staff people, miners and contractors.
"We want to see the true extent of the problem," said Hutchison. "The minister has committed to respond to our concerns and recommendations. A tripartite meeting will be set up with the Steelworkers, the Ministry of Labour and the WSIB to address the occupational disease issues we raised today."
by Virginia Sutcliffe