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Job-related deaths in Canada dramatically under-reported: study

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Close to 1,000 Canadians die each year because of their jobs, according to official numbers from Canada’s workers’ compensation agencies. But a new study says that figure is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true extent of work-related deaths across the country.

The study — titled Work-related deaths in Canada — argues the widely quoted statistics from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Board of Canada (AWCBC) should not solely be used as a benchmark for work-related fatalities, as these figures only take into account approved compensation claims.

As a result, thousands of deaths — such as workers exempt from coverage, stress-induced suicides, commuting fatalities and occupational disease — are missing from occupational health and safety statistics, it says.

“This situation is akin to crime statistics only ever including solved homicides, therein leaving the impression that attempted murders, unsolved murders or suspicious deaths are not a concern,” the study’s authors wrote.

Steve Bittle, an associate criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, spearheaded the research. (CBC)

Our notion of what constitutes a workplace fatality is too narrow and it is a mistake to count work-related fatalities through our compensation regimes, says Steven Bittle, an associate criminology professor at the University of Ottawa who spearheaded the research, which was published in November.

Last year, workers’ compensation boards across the country approved a total of 904 claims involving fatalities. About one-third of those cases involved acute accidents, with the rest due to longer-term illnesses from occupational exposure.

Bittle’s team estimates that a more accurate figure hovers between 10,000 to 13,000 deaths annually.

Non-reporting and under-reported fatalities

Depending on the province, between 70 and 98 per cent of the workforce is covered by a public workers’ compensation system. But that means there are well more than two million workers in Canada whose deaths would escape official statistics.

Excluded occupations could include the self-employed, domestic helpers, banking employees and farmers, among others.

The latest AWCBC figures show that in Ontario, only 24 per cent of the approximate 7.1 million working Ontarians are covered by a workers’ compensation regime.

Bittle’s paper also cites a 2015 study from the University of British Columbia that found an average of six fatalities per year that were not on WorkSafeBC’s radar. Many of these cases involved deaths that occurred in hospital, days after the workplace event.

The authors further estimate about 64 farming deaths escape official statistics each year.

The study estimates about about 64 farming deaths aren’t reflected in annual occupational health and safety statistics. (CBC)

Morag Marjerison, a farm-safety consultant based in Brandon, Man., agrees that the dearth of data is problematic. In Manitoba, farm owners and their family members are exempt from mandatory coverage.

“I think it’s really a problem in that we don’t ever see the true picture. Whenever I’m looking at training, trying to educate [farmers], we’re always showing what look like low statistics, when we know that’s not the reality of what’s happening,” she said.

“I think if everyone that works in safety saw the reality of how frequently the same things happen over again and again, attention could be paid to the bigger issues.”

Commuters and bystanders

One of the more contentious elements of Bittle’s study, he admits, is the idea that deaths while commuting to and from work are worth including in workplace-fatality statistics. He estimates there are about 460 commuting deaths a year — and the goal of their inclusion is to start a conversation about some broader issues.

“We live in a culture of presenteeism, where people are expected to be at work — at least culturally expected to be at work, if not through pressures in their workforce — regardless of whether they’re ill or whether the weather conditions are such that they shouldn’t be driving at that particular time,” he said.

The 2013 death of an Alberta intern who was killed while driving home after a 16-hour shift at a local radio station highlighted the potentially dangerous relationship between commuting and workload.

The study also suggests that non-workers who die collaterally could be included, such as a spouse who dies after repeatedly being exposed to asbestos from years of washing their partner’s clothes, or a pedestrian crushed in a scaffolding collapse while walking near a job site.

Suicides: ‘Extreme stresses’

In 2017, a Saskatchewan man employed by a small rural municipality took his own life after struggling with mental-health issues found to have been exacerbated by his work. The province’s WCB partly attributed the death to his employer.

Situations like these are rarely covered, and the study suggests the number of suicide-related claims is drastically underestimated.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada published a study last year that found Canadian employees reported workplace stress as the primary cause of their mental-health concerns.

Bittle believes between 10 and 17 per cent of annual suicides in Canada could be classified as work-related, representing a range of 400 to 800 fatalities each year.

Mara Grunau, executive director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention, agrees that while the links between work and mental health exist, proving it caused a person to take their life is difficult.

“In our culture, we spend hours and hours at work. And the way we feel about work, and the way we interact with the people at work, affects who we are,” she said. “If work is a miserable place to be, it affects other aspects of our life.”

And while there are “many contributing factors” that can lead a person to that point of desperation, Grunau says “the research would not bear out one big, bad thing that is going to absolutely cause somebody to die by suicide.”

Cancer and disease

Ultimately, the study concludes that the single biggest category for underestimation relates to cancer and disease.

Currently, between 500 and 600 approved WCB claims nationwide are the result of occupational disease. But Bittle estimates a figure that is upward of 8,000 deaths.

Amendments to Prince Edward Island’s Workers Compensation Act came into force just last week, giving firefighters presumptive coverage for certain types of cancers and illnesses. P.E.I. was last province to make these changes

Former General Electric worker Sue James has been fighting for compensation for hundreds of retired workers based in Peterborough, Ont., who suffer from what is alleged to be occupational disease. (CBC)

While firefighters’ unions have been successful in their lobbying, other employer groups have not.

Former General Electric worker Sue James has been fighting for compensation for hundreds of retired workers based in Peterborough, Ont., who suffer from what is alleged to be occupational disease due in large part to repeated exposure to industrial chemicals. Her father died of cancer following three decades of working in that plant.

James has successfully lobbied the Ontario government to reopen hundreds of previously denied WSIB claims.

“The burden of proof is so high. I mean, you almost have to have swam in a vat of trichloroethylene or in asbestos in order to get claims. So there’s been a huge resistance … to believe what we’re trying to say happened there,” she said.

Bittle says his report didn’t seek to address how to better gather data, as the objective was to clearly lay out the issue of under-reported workplace deaths.

“What we do say is that, at the very least, there is a leadership role that the federal government could and should take in order to initiate discussions on this very topic.”

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Now 10 cases of measles diagnosed in B.C. outbreak, vaccinations way up

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VANCOUVER — Two new cases of measles have been diagnosed in the Vancouver area for a total of 10 illnesses as health officials say they’re concerned they can’t find the source of one of the infections.

Vancouver Coastal medical health officer Dr. Althea Hayden says nine of the cases are clearly associated with schools that were at the centre of the original outbreak this month, but they don’t know where the other person contracted the disease.

The health authority has also released a list of locations where one of the infected people travelled over three days from Feb. 15 to Feb. 18, including restaurants, on a Canada Line commuter train and Langara College.

Hayden says the health authority is doing its best to find the source of measles in the 10th person in an effort to prevent more people from being exposed.

Measles at first presents with flu-like symptoms, coughing, a runny nose and red eyes, but then a fever develops, followed by the distinctive rash.

Hayden says the response to a call for people to get vaccinated has been fantastic and the health authority has seen a large number of first-time vaccinations.

“It’s the best thing that people can do to protect themselves, it’s the best thing we all can do to protect our community.”

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Students with ADHD less likely to enrol in post-secondary education, study says

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Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press


Published Friday, February 22, 2019 2:58PM EST

OTTAWA — Students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are much less likely to go to college or university than those with no long-term health conditions, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.

The gap suggests teachers need better training in how to work with students whose behaviour can come off as disruptive and who might seem uninterested in their studies, advocates say.

“They are going to have one to three kids with ADHD in every class they teach for the rest of their career, and this is just regular classrooms, yet we’re not training them,” said Heidi Bernhardt, the executive director of the Centre for ADHD Awareness.

Researchers found that young people with neither a mental-health nor a neurodevelopmental disorder, 77 per cent had enrolled in a post-secondary program.

Only 48 per cent of Canadians between 18 and 22 years old who had a diagnosed mental-health condition had enrolled in a post-secondary institution. That includes students diagnosed with emotional, psychological or nervous conditions, but nearly three-quarters of this group were diagnosed with ADHD, which is considered a mental illness.

The researchers found 60 per cent of youth diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders enrolled, including people with epilepsy, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities or learning disabilities.

Among young adults with both a mental-health and a neurodevelopmental condition, 36 per cent had enrolled in higher education.

The report used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, as well as some data from income-tax returns.

Educators may misinterpret the symptoms of ADHD as bad behaviour, leaving students discouraged about learning and more prone to dropping out of high school, said Bernhardt. She said students with ADHD and no additional learning disabilities score eight to 10 per cent lower in math and reading.

Andrew King, director of communications at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, said there is no data on the number of teachers across the country who are trained in supporting students with special needs.

Bernhardt also said supports for students with ADHD are inconsistent across provinces.

Ontario has a system for identifying “exceptionalities” for students that divides disorders into five different categories, including autism and intellectual disabilities. ADHD isn’t on that list.

Dr. Philippe Robaey, head of the ADHD team at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, said learning organizational skills is the biggest challenge facing students with the disorder, which can be difficult when they struggle with staying focused on one task.

“When I see kids with ADHD, what they often will say is that ‘I’m stupid.’ Of course they are not, this is the perception they may just develop about themselves, but they are not able to do things so they can develop very poor self-esteem and not believe in what they can do.”

Robaey said setting students with ADHD up for success starts with individualized learning plans and access to specialized classrooms and teachers who are equipped to encourage youth with special needs.

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New biological batteries use energy inspired by electric eels, could be used on next-gen robots, bio-implants

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(Natural News) Battery technology is constantly improving, despite there being only fair coverage about it on the news. Unless you’re specifically looking for what’s new in the world of rechargeable batteries, you aren’t likely to find a lot of information. But there are many experts around the world who are currently working on improving the…

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