Workers Health & Safety Centre

Occupational disease site offers insights on exposure and prevention

A recently launched web site will be an important new source of evidence-based research focused on tracking occupational disease trends and exposures in Ontario.

The new initiative is led by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre. In launching the site, OCRC Director, Dr. Paul Demers said, “It will increase our capacity to identify high-risk populations, and provide the evidence needed to implement effective prevention strategies in Ontario.”

The Occupational Disease Surveillance Program (ODSP) and its projects are made possible through funding from the Ontario Ministry of Labour, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Cancer Care Ontario, the Canadian Cancer Society, and WorkSafe BC.

Current ODSP projects focus on three areas:
  • The Occupational Disease Surveillance System (ODSS), which combines provincial data sources to examine cancer risk and non-malignant diseases among Ontario workers.
  • Ontario’s Toxics Reduction Act (TRA) which requires certain facilities to track and report their use and emission of toxic substances. The TRA Project explores how to apply this data for workplace exposure monitoring.
  • The Mesothelioma Surveillance Project which provides an update of current and future mesothelioma incidence in Canada and current survival statistics.

Gov't set to repeal one important source of evidence

The second area of focus however is in jeopardy despite its potential for harm reduction. Health and safety advocates have long argued effective toxics reductions laws can help workplaces transition to safer alternatives. Reducing harmful exposures can help reduce the overall cancer burden benefitting both worker and public health.

Regardless, the government omnibus Bill 66, Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, 2019 currently at Third Reading debate, among other things, proposes to repeal Ontario’s Toxics Reduction Act. The law requires certain businesses to track and quantify the toxic substances they use and create. They must also develop toxics reduction plans and make summaries of their plans available to the public but implementation of the plans is not mandatory.

A 2017 report on the burden of occupational cancer in Ontario recommended amending Ontario’s Toxics Reduction Act to specifically address worker exposure and health issues, expand the number of substances covered under the Act, and provide support to workplaces through a government-funded institution.

Massachusetts’ model Toxics Use Reduction Act sets out similar tracking, reporting and toxics reduction planning for large chemical users, but fees, paid by reporting companies, support several government agencies including the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI). Agencies like TURI offer critical support to help workplaces find safer, less polluting alternatives.

The Workers Health & Safety Centre assists workplace parties with training and information services. All of these resources are aimed at raising awareness about hazardous exposures and targeting prevention at the workplace level.
WHSC related articles:
CCO report includes new information on occupational cancers in Ontario
Regulation an important driver of workplace chemical substitution, report finds

To learn more: 
Call:   1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak with a training services representative