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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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Health Ranger posts new microscopy photos of covid swabs, covid masks and mysterious red and blue fibers

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(Natural News) What follows is a series of microscopy photos of covid swabs (a synthetic swab, then a cotton swab), a covid mask and some zoomed-in photos of mysterious red and blue fibers found in the masks.

The magnification range for these photos is 50X to 200X. Most were taken with white light, but several (as indicated) were taken with UV light.

The images shown here are 600 pixels wide. We have higher resolution images available to researchers and indy media journalists; contact us for those hi-res images.

More microscopy investigations are under way, and new images will be posted as they are finalized.

First, this series shows the carbon fiber layer of a covid mask, illuminated with UV light:

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5,800 test positive, 74 die of coronavirus at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated

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(Natural News) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, April 15, confirmed some 5,800 breakthrough coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S.

A breakthrough COVID-19 case is defined as someone who has detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated against the disease.

Nearly 400 breakthrough cases required treatment at hospitals and 74 died. A little over 40 percent of the infections were in people 60 years and above and 65 percent were female. About 29 percent of the vaccine breakthrough infections were reportedly asymptomatic. The figures were for cases through April 13.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the causes of the breakthrough cases are being probed. “Some of these breakthroughs are, of course, failure of an immune response in the host. And then some of them we worry might be related to a variant that is circulating. So we’re looking at both,” she said.

The CDC is monitoring reported cases “for clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type or lot number, and SARS-CoV-2 lineage.” It has created a national COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough database, where state health departments can enter, store and manage data for cases in their region.

Where available, respiratory specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 will be collected for genomic sequencing “to identify the virus lineage that caused the infection.”

Positive test less than two weeks after getting fully vaccinated is not a breakthrough case

The number of cases the CDC has identified does not include people who contracted COVID-19 less than two weeks after their final dose. The two-week marker is important, said infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A human body should have enough time to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after that timeframe. Before then, a person won’t necessarily have the built-up immunity needed to fight off an infection. According to Dr. Adalja, cases that occur before the two-week mark are not considered breakthrough cases.

Dr. Adalja also noted that more research is needed to determine if highly infectious variants of the virus are behind the breakthrough cases. “It is crucial to study breakthrough cases to understand their severity, their contagiousness and what role variants may be playing,” Dr. Adalja said.

More than 78 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 15.

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control.”

But the CDC conceded that “thousands of vaccine breakthrough cases will occur even though the vaccine is working as expected.”

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agreed with the CDC. “These vaccines that we’re using are fabulous but they’re not perfect,” he said. “At best, they’re 95 percent effective in preventing serious illness, but minor illnesses can occur.”

According to U.S. drug regulators, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing infection. Moderna’s was shown in a clinical trial to be 94.1 percent effective while Johnson & Johnson’s was 66.9 percent effective. Only Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 27, was tested when variants were circulating.

The percentages are based on results from vaccine recipients two weeks after the final vaccination.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated in a briefing last week that the breakthrough cases are not a cause for concern.

“I think the important thing is to look at what the denominator of vaccinated people is. Because it is very likely that the number of breakthrough cases is not at all incompatible with the 90-plus percent vaccine efficacy,” he said. “So I don’t think that there needs to be concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.”

More info needed before drawing conclusions from breakthrough cases

The percentage of vaccine breakthroughs in a population depends on multiple factors, including vaccine efficacy, the amount of virus circulating and the length of time since vaccination, according to Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“I love to see small numbers as much as anyone, but know that numbers like this cannot be directly interpreted as a measure of vaccine efficacy (although I have a feeling they will be). We can only interpret them against a background rate in unvaccinated people,” Dean wrote on Twitter.

“Similarly, ‘most breakthroughs have been in elderly adults’ should not be read as the vaccine is less effective in elderly adults. The majority of vaccinations (and the longest amount of follow-up time) have been in elderly adults. Again, we need more info to interpret.”

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More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus in San Francisco last year

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(Natural News) More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Francisco last year, a microcosm of a larger nationwide problem coinciding with the pandemic.

Data from San Francisco’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows that 708 people were killed by fentanyl in 2020, an astonishing 118 times more since the introduction of the drug in the city just five years earlier.

That figure nearly tripled the 254 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the city for the whole of last year. More than 8 in 10 deaths were male, and just under half were white. People aged 55 to 64 made up nearly a quarter of the fatalities. Nearly 40 percent of the deaths occurred in open-air drug markets such as the Tenderloin and South of Market.

The number of overdose deaths in the city could have been far worse as more than 3,000 addicts suffering from an overdose were administered with naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses.

San Francisco’s death rate from fentanyl overdose continues to rise this year as 135 died by overdose in January and February, putting the city on pace for more than 800 deaths by the end of the year.

The city has become a significant part of a larger trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on Wednesday, April 14, showing that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdose over the 12-month period that ended in September last year – the highest since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.

Lockdowns lead to more cases of drug overdose

The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis that may be correlated to the government’s monotonous battle plan against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 19 last year, California became the first state in the U.S. to implement a stay-at-home order. It subsequently endured the longest lockdown of any state in the country.

The pandemic and accompanying lockdowns are believed to be partly responsible for the soaring number of drug deaths for obvious reasons. Lockdowns have badly disrupted the social services in the city, including drug addiction treatment. Drug experts say the isolation of the past 12 months is causing vulnerable residents to turn to opioids.

“We see the death and devastation getting worse right in front of us,” said Matt Haney, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member. “It’s an unprecedented spiraling, directly connected to the introduction of fentanyl in our city.”

Fentanyl first appeared on the streets of San Francisco in 2015. There were just six deaths from the synthetic opioid that year, 12 deaths in 2016 and 37 deaths in 2017. The figure skyrocketed when the drugs became widely available in the city in 2018.

Kristen Marshall, manager of the national drug harm reduction DOPE Project, noted the grim irony that while social isolation could save lives from COVID-19, it had undoubtedly contributed to the number of overdose deaths.

“Isolation is also the thing that puts people at the absolute highest risk of overdose death,” she said.

Pandemic exacerbates rise in deaths from drug overdose

The number of deaths from drug overdose started rising in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, making it hard to gauge how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend. The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect.

Many treatment programs closed during that time while drop-in centers, which provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, cut back services.

The data released by the CDC shows a 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020 compared with the previous 12-month period. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were the primary drivers, although many fatal overdoses have also involved stimulant drugs like methamphetamine.

Unlike in the early years of the opioid epidemic, when deaths were largely among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, the current crisis is affecting Black Americans disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at a national addiction conference last week.

“And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.”

Dr. Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid like fentanyl.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) supported Dr. Volkow’s claim, saying that transnational criminal organizations cause a spike in overdoses by mixing fentanyl into illicit narcotics.

According to the DEA, Mexican cartels often purchase the drug components in China and use human mules to smuggle the narcotics to lucrative drug markets north of the border.

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