Wednesday, Feb 3, 2016
First Responder News
Care & Support
Ontario follows Manitoba's lead and classifies PTSD an occupational illness
Unifor/Voice file photo
nifor applauds the announcement by the Ontario Government of the first piece of a strategy to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for emergency response workers.
"The Ministry acknowledges that emergency response workers such as paramedics, police and firefighters are at least twice as likely as the general population to suffer from PTSD due to the risk of exposure to traumatic stress in the line of duty," said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. "And while this announcement is clearly an important first step, we urge those in government to take the next logical step and approve Bill 2."
Unifor continues to call for unanimous endorsement and prompt passage in the provincial Legislature of Bill 2: The Workplace Safety and Insurance Amendment Act. Bill 2 was introduced by Cheri DiNovo, MPP (Parkdale—High Park) as a private members' bill to alter the rules at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Should an emergency response worker suffer from PTSD, under Bill 2 the disorder would be presumed to be an occupational disease, unless the contrary was shown.
Manitoba has already implemented this system recognizing PTSD as an occupational disease as of January 1, 2016 and Unifor has been urging the Ontario government to follow suit. The intention is to reduce stigma around mental illness and to make it less bureaucratic to establish a causal connection between PTSD and the impact on a worker's employment.
"We're encouraged to see the Ontario strategy includes a number of new initiatives to help prevent or mitigate the risk of PTSD among first responders," said Unifor Ontario Regional Director Katha Fortier. "But we also need better, more just systems to support the thousands who are already suffering with PTSD."
Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing more than 310,000 workers, including 500 flight and land paramedics in Ontario. It was formed Labour Day weekend 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers unions merged.
OPSEU president says PTSD strategy needs legislative teeth
The President of OPSEU is pleased the Ontario government is moving to address Post‑Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among first responders. However, Warren (Smokey) Thomas stressed that legislation is needed to underpin any meaningful PTSD strategy.
"It's great that the government wants to talk about PTSD," said Thomas, "but talk won't compensate past, present or future sufferers of PTSD. As the law stands, the burden of proof is on the injured worker, meaning many first responders have been unjustly denied benefits.
"The law needs to change so the onus is on the employer. The Minister of Labour says he's 'leaning towards' legislation. Well, he'd better lean all the way, because without a change in the law, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board can keep traumatized workers jumping through hoops to prove they got sick on the job. And that just adds insult to injury."
OPSEU Ambulance Division Chair Jamie Ramage agreed that the government's proposed measures do not go far enough. "We welcome awareness campaigns and research," he said, "but the WSIB needs to presume that PTSD is a workplace-acquired illness for first responders. That means putting presumption right into the legislation. It's the only way a PTSD strategy will be truly effective."
NDP Labour critic Cheri DiNovo has introduced three bills on the matter since 2010. Bill 67 received all-party support in February 2014. DiNovo introduced Bill 2 on July 7, 2014. If passed, it would follow the examples of Alberta and Manitoba in putting the onus on the WSIB to prove a case of PTSD was not caused at work. Since then, the bill has stalled.
Ramage said that OPSEU paramedics support Bill 2, but they believe workers in all occupations who experience traumatic events on the job should be presumed to have an occupational disease if they develop PTSD or other psychological injuries.
Thomas is urging the government to move forward on Bill 2. "Eighteen months ago, Cheri introduced a great bill to recognize the long-term effects of traumatic events on our heroic first responders. If this government is serious about addressing PTSD, then let's pass Bill 2. It's the right thing to do."
SOURCE Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)
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