Banning Asbestos – The Personal & the Political


For the Day of Mourning on April 28th, a broad coalition of asbestos victims and family members, labour, health, environmental and NGO organizations have banded together to call for a ban on asbestos in Canada. Under the umbrella, “Ban Asbestos Canada”, the coalition is calling for a comprehensive strategy to address the lethal legacy of asbestos.  Examples of strategic initiatives would be looking into early detection, increased research, improved screening and safe disposal/removal of asbestos.
Linda Reinstein, the co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) in the U.S., is involved in these discussions as she sees a connectivity between Canada and the U.S. on banning asbestos.  Reinstein says,
“For decades, the U.S. bought chrysotile asbestos from Canada. We’ve seen the callous profiteers, miners and users, profiting over people.”

However, Reinstein says she’s hesitant to use the word ‘ban’ because it sounds like such a simple solution to an extremely complex, layered issue.  From exposures in the workplace, schools, and hospitals and to volunteers helping with natural disasters, asbestos is a ubiquitous problem which must look at prohibiting use and imports, establishing medical programs, outreach and education and workers’ safety programs for those working in contaminated buildings, Reinstein adds.

“I want to stop the import; we’re still importing asbestos since the 1900s which is horrific.  Over the last 150 years, we have consumed over 31 million metric tonnes, 31 million metric tonnes. That’s huge and that means it remains in building, in schools, communities, you know, we have a long legacy of asbestos issues.”

The knee-jerk reaction to banning asbestos, once known as the “magic mineral”, is that it’s the only economically viable option.  As Linda mentions, this notion is a complete fallacy: “It’s manageable when you do ban asbestos.  You know, there are economically viable substitutes, there’s implementation programs.  Countries do not falter and waver on the brink of bankruptcy because they banned asbestos.  So we need to get that notion out of people’s minds.”

To battle this misconception, the Ban Asbestos Canada campaign has pointed to the 56 other countries who have banned the use, exportation and importation of asbestos, such as the UK, France, Australia, Japan and Germany.  In its place, the coalition is asking for a safe substitute, which could simultaneously create Canadian jobs.  For example, manufacturing asbestos-free brake pads that are already being fashioned in Guelph, Ontario.

Linda Reinstein’s Story

For Linda Reinstein, the political is personal.  Linda’s husband, Alan, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2003 and her advocacy started shortly after.

Prior to being diagnosed, Linda said that Alan experienced the classic nine months of misdiagnosed symptoms, with no clear diagnosis of what was causing his pleural effusion.  The experience was an emotional roller coaster: “Alan went through these tests and he would get ‘negative, negative’, we were jubilant thinking ‘oh great, it’s not cancer, it’s not this, it’s not that’ but we didn’t realize the false negative was so high. So we felt we did all the right stuff in our lives and then unbeknownst to us, Alan was suffering from an aggressive, terminal disease.”

While Linda can’t be sure, she says that his diagnosis was probably a combination of occupational and non-occupational cancer as he worked in home repairs (e.g. with stucco walls) and in a shipyard in the 60s as a metallurgical engineer.

When asked who she directed her anger towards, Linda responds, “My anger was sort of widely distributed. I was angry at the government, I was angry at the manufacturers who make products, I was angry at the employers who bought those products…This manmade disaster has been caused by over 100 years of time, and frankly, ignorance. I was angered by many different aspects of asbestos: I wanted my life back, I wanted Alan’s life back, I wanted my daughter’s life back. But I always say, there’s no rewind button in life.  I had to accept my new normal and do the best I can to take care of my husband who was very ill and be the best mom I could be.”

Instead of being consumed by her anger, Linda turned her anger into action by co-founding the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

“ADAO was actually borne out of pain, fear and anger.  The pain of having someone you love being diagnosed with a terminal yet preventable disease was overwhelming.  Alan was sixty-three and my daughter at the time was ten.  The fear of losing Alan and the fear of the unknown was huge. Would he ever work again? How long would he live? How would our lives change? Could we survive? And then the anger; the anger to know that all of this could have been prevented had Alan not worked or been exposed to asbestos.”

Linda started with a visit to Washington with her 11-year old daughter.  Senator Patty Murray was introducing a Bill to ban asbestos and Linda was determined to go.  As they waited in line for Starbucks and other places around Washington, Linda started to realize “that something was deeply wrong in our country because people would say ‘it happened to me, it happened to my family’ and then I was like ‘wait a minute, this isn’t that rare disease that I’ve been told, it’s just underreported.”

When she came home, Linda said she knew she needed to do something “fast and dramatic” Linda reflects back: “So I came home from LA, put on a baseball hat, went to a friend’s, we set up a website and I had no mission vision, financial planning, nothing, other than the feeling I knew I needed to do something.  That if I didn’t, mesothelioma would claim my life too, because I was really angry and I was so scared and I would cry in the garage, just turn off the lights and cry.  Like what do you do to help your family when your husband’s diagnosed? How do you do your homework with your child? I don’t know if anybody in your family has had cancer but it’s not just the patient; cancer impacts the entire family.”

Linda met Doug Larkin at Senator Murray’s briefing and they became instant friends. Doug was also feeling anger, as his father-in-law, Bill, had been diagnosed with mesothelioma.  Together, Doug and Linda cofounded ADAO, which takes a three-pronged approach to preventing asbestos-caused diseases:

  • Educate the public and medical community about asbestos-related diseases and preventing asbestos exposure. Support research that leads to early detection, prevention and a cure.
  • Collaborate with organizations around the world for a global asbestos ban. Raise awareness that asbestos is still legal and lethal in the U.S.
  • Unite asbestos victims to reduce isolation and strengthen community action through social networks and ADAO’s Share Your Story platform.

One of the biggest strengths of the campaign, in Linda’s mind, is the organization’s ability to blend social media advocacy and social media story-telling.  In order to get people to care, Linda says she has to be able to tell her own story, the story, a shared story so that people understand this is a real issue.  Linda says that when she started out, “I was a TEDx speaker in my community, I began testifying in front of Congress, I was able to share my story – when I say my story I mean a shared story, it’s not just Linda and Alan, it’s the Linda and Alan’s of the world.”

Now, the ADAO is the largest independent asbestos victims’ organization in the U.S., and has has shared stories from all across the U.S, and abroad from countries like Canada, Australia and South America.

“Asbestos victims find it cathartic and empowering to channel grief and anger through storytelling. We all want our stories to be heard, felt, remembered, and shared. As I like to think, sharing makes us stronger,” says Linda.

For those whose lives are impacted by asbestos, Linda says the most important approach is not to lose hope – there isn’t a cure yet but there are improved treatments and communities where they can give and receive support, such as the ADAO.

Linda says, “Every person who I’ve asked for help has extended their hand. Even if they didn’t understand or maybe they didn’t feel it was the issue they were really passionate about – every person has helped me along this journey. It’s amazing.  People understand that it’s health, it’s safety, it’s basic human rights, it’s a disaster that never should’ve happened.”

For more information on the ADAO please visit:


Our say on the newly proposed WSIB model


Shifting the conversation from employers to employees

It is clear the current WSIB system is not working for employees across the province.

The WSIB appears to be recognizing the archaic nature of the current model and is in the process of creating a new “reformed rate framework model” to address the current model’s many shortfalls.

We commend the staff at WSIB for their thorough consultation sessions and the in-depth resources provided on the new model.

However, we want to shift the conversation from the commonly asked “What will this mean for employers?” to “What will this mean for employees?” The cost of workers’ health and lives must be the central consideration, as opposed to on the periphery of cost-savings for employers.

Topics we addressed in our October 2015 submission to the WSIB included:

  • Expansion of coverage (i.e. mandatory, universal)
  • Implications for temporary workers and agencies
  • Surcharges and surcharge refund programs
  • Positive incentives for good health and safety records
  • Internal and third party review of new WSIB model
  • Implications for incident report dynamics
  • Rates between non-union and unionized workplaces
  • Specifics of new rate classifications for healthcare employers
  • Corporate penalties for convicted Workplace Safety Insurance Acts (WSIA) offence
  • Physical monitoring (audits) of workplaces and internal staffing levels

The first topic – expansion of coverage – is an essential element of creating a more equitable compensation system. According to an article by the Injured Workers Group, Ontario has one of Canada’s lowest workplace insurance coverage rates, with estimates of coverage ranging between 70-72% of the Ontario workforce.

Within the healthcare sector, retirement home and group home employees are not covered, many of whom SEIU Healthcare represents. Expanding WSIB coverage to all workers in Ontario would benefit not only workers but also the WSIB system in general, and would also reflect one of the original intentions of Ontario’s workers’ compensation: a system founded on collective liability.

Therefore, expanding compensation universally across Ontario is one of SEIU’s strongest recommendations in our submission.

We do not believe that a fair system can be delivered by experience rating models in general, as the system inherently disadvantages injured workers. Yet, we want to make sure our members’ voices are still at the table and have therefore offered suggestions on the proposed model which would reduce the model’s impact on workers.

Read the full submission here.

Let a Smile be Your Umbrella

Let a Smile by Your Umbrella

I want a title change. I would like to be the Chief Happiness Officer. Sounds far-fetched, but every workplace should have one, and in fact, the title does exist; just ask Alexander Kjerulf. Alex is the founder of Woohoo inc and one of the world’s leading experts on happiness at work and has consulted for some of the world’s biggest brands. Be sure to check out his Chief Happiness Officer Blog.

When it comes to grumpy attitudes at work, you have two options: change others’ behaviour or change your own. Usually, the latter is easier, and is more the Canadian way.

Why should being happy at work be an option? It’s called work after all…

Studies show that happy employees are more productive, more innovative, more motivated, more energetic, and more optimistic. They are also less sick, stay with the company longer, and make the customers more loyal. For those reasons (and many others) happy companies make more money. But personally, I just don’t want to be miserable for more than a third of my day, nor do I want to be around others that do!

Studies also show that faking it until you make it; i.e. consciously removing the negativity from your frame of reference (this will take some work!), eliminating negative self-talk, and laughter yoga (really), can help break a pattern of negativity and offer some real health benefits.

We could all benefit personally from trying out these techniques, and the organizations we work for will benefit as well.

Occupational Health & Safety Week


NAOSH Week (North American Occupational Safety and Health Week) – was first launched in June 1997, and marked by an agreement between Canada, the US and Mexico, and continued the work of Canadian Occupational Health and Safety Week (COHS) which had been observed for ten years previously (1986-1996). From 1997-2000, NAOSH Week was governed by CSSE (Canadian Society of Safety Engineers), however since 2000, the responsibility and management of NAOSH Week has continued under CSSE’s leadership in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS), and the Labour Program of Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC), and Threads of Life. CSSE works hard to promote and encourage the goals of NAOSH. Along with the efforts of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), NAOSH Week continues to be a truly continent-wide event.

Ignorance is not bliss – do you know what’s in your workplace?

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has developed an informative webpage regarding workplace hazards by type. There are many types of hazards – chemical, ergonomic, physical, and psychosocial, to name a few – which can cause harm or adverse effects in the workplace. Get resources on specific hazards and their control, including identification, risk assessment and inspections, to keep your workplace healthy and safe.

According the National Work Injury/Diseases Statistics Program, authored by the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada in 2013, in Ontario the number of time-loss injuries for professional occupations in health was 1,322, 1,654 for technical and skilled occupations in health and 2,517 for assisting occupations in health. Although these numbers are not ideal, this study also showed that they were on the downward trend and significantly below results for both Quebec and BC. Clearly there is a need across Canada for greater education, awareness and caution in the workplace. Be sure to review the Occupational Health and Safety Act to understand your rights and responsibilities.

Occupational Health & Safety Act
Pocket Ontario OH&S Act & Regulations 2014 – Consolidated Edition (Carswell’s “Green Book”)


National Day of Mourning

SEIU Healthcare remembers on the National Day of Mourning

Tuesday, April 28 is National Day of Mourning. This is the day when we remember and reflect on those who have lost their lives on the job or have suffered injury or illness in their workplace.

Over the past 21 years, from 1993 to 2013, nearly 19,000 have lost their lives on the job. That’s an average of over 900 deaths per year.

In healthcare, workplace injury is a very serious issue. Healthcare workers face many different occupational hazards including slips, trips and falls, musculoskeletal Disorder (MSDs), repetitive strain injuries, and needle sticks every day.

Employees who work in long-term and homecare environments also have to deal with potential physical, mental and verbal abuse by the very people they are caring for. Of the more than 70,000 Ontarians in long-term care, about 11% are considered severely aggressive. That’s an average of about 13 people per home. Any anyone can be their target, staff, family members and even other residents.

We are happy to report that there were no known workplace deaths that occurred at an SEIU Healthcare facility. But we must be vigilant – proactive education and prevention measures are the key to avoiding workplace mishaps.

The number of workplace deaths throughout Canada has gone down since 2012. In 2013, 902 people were died on the job work a drop from 977 the year before.

Even though we have made progress, there is still much work to be done. According to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC), there were 4 fatalities within the health and social service industries in Ontario in 2013. This number is still too high.

That’s why employees need to speak up. We need to bring more attention to this important issue and create greater public awareness. Even one injury or death cannot be acceptable. Many times, these deaths could have been prevented.

On April 28 at 11:00 am, SEIU will be participating in several National Day of Mourning events across the GTHA. Please join us in solidarity with our brothers and sisters while we pause and remember those workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace related hazards and incidents.

Peel Region
SEIU President Sharleen Stewart will be speaking at Brampton Flower City Seniors Centre (Milestones of Labour Monument) located at 8870 McLaughlin Road. The event starts at 10:00 am. Map

York Region
SEIU Secretary Treasurer Manny Carvalho will be speaking at the Woodbridge Memorial Arena, located at 5020 Hwy 7 in Woodbridge. The event starts at 11:00 am. Map

Niagara Region
SEIU Union Representative Sean Soper will be speaking at the Monument located at the Centennial Arena – 1557 Four Mile Creek Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The event starts at 9:00 am. Map

Dave Blake, an Executive Board member of SEIU, will be speaking at the Monument located at Niagara Falls City Hall on 4310 Queen Street. The event starts at 10:00 am. Map