Workers Health & Safety Centre

Peterborough monument to recognize legacy of occupational disease

With your help, a new monument commemorating the lives and deaths of Peterborough-area workers killed because of occupational disease will soon become a reality.
The Peterborough Occupational Disease Action Committee (PODAC), a community-based group of volunteers, is spearheading a fundraising initiative to erect a monument in Peterborough to honour loved ones and friends who went to work to earn a living unaware harmful exposures would cut their lives short.
“We want to ensure the legacy of occupational disease is not soon forgotten in our community and beyond,” explains Sue James, Peterborough resident and the PODAC lead. “The monument will also provide a lasting physical space for families, friends and the broader community to visit and reflect on lives lost and the work ahead towards safer, healthier work and just compensation for those impacted by hazardous exposures.” (Pictured above is Sue James explaining documentation demonstrating how local employer GE denied toxic exposures responsible for the deaths of many workers.)
PODAC has established a fundraising goal of $80,000 to construct the monument they’ve entitled, “A Place to Remember”. Tax deductible donations can be mailed (details below) or made through the City of Peterborough web site (choose the Monument for Occupational Disease from the drop-down menu).

Legacy of suffering

For 126 years, General Electric (GE) operated a manufacturing facility in Peterborough, Ontario. At its peak, the company employed 6,000 workers. Just a few hundred remained when operations ceased in 2018. While these jobs sustained many families and were important to the local economy, hazardous exposures led to terrible suffering and lives cut short for hundreds, perhaps more. These workplace exposures included more than 40 known or suspected carcinogens and thousands of other toxic chemicals.

A 2019 documentary entitled, Town of Widows, conveys the troubling, yet inspiring story of former GE workers, their families and a broad-based support network all working together in pursuit of justice for the horrible outcomes of this unhealthy work. Their efforts forced Ontario’s workers’ compensation system to review and reverse many of the original occupational disease and fatality claim denials.
Still, this community coalition knows much work remains and continues to seek justice for former GE workers and many others and encourages other communities confronted by similar suffering to speak out.
“We know we aren’t the only community to suffer,” says James, who worked at GE for more than 30 years as did her father who succumbed to cancer, a fatality that was accepted by the WSIB. “And we hope our efforts will help encourage others to explore legacies of suffering in their community and to consider advocating for just compensation and safer, healthier work.” 

Pursuing prevention…through truth and training

While most, if not all, traumatic deaths at work get reported to Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), very few deaths caused by occupational disease are reported to or recognized by this compensation system. This is particularly the case for cancer, lung diseases and other chronic illnesses with long latency periods between workplace exposure(s) and disease onset. Consider that for 2022, the WSIB allowed 165 occupational disease death claims. Now consider estimates suggesting between 600 and 5,000 Ontarians died in 2022 from work-related cancer alone.

Sharing this true toll of suffering is critical to inform the public, government regulators, employers and others of the full impact of unsafe and unhealthy work and lend some urgency to the pursuit of prevention.
It is also important to consider employers have the most significant obligation to protect workers and training is a critical part of this legal duty.

WHSC can help

Ontario’s official government-designated training centre, Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) provides training for workplaces in all sectors of the economy, private and public. Some training is mandatory, including WHMIS and training for supervisorsjoint health and safety committee members and some is essential including worker health and safety representatives in helping to prepare training participants to act on their significant rights and obligations in pursuit of safer, healthier work. And for a limited time we are offering several of these workplace programs at deep discounts and in many cases free of charge.
Check out our complete in-person and virtual training schedules.

Related resources:
Monument donation request letter 
Donate by mail
Donate online (choose the Monument for Occupational Disease from the drop-down menu)
GE Peterborough Town of Widows documentary to air on CBC
True toll of work-related death far exceeds WSIB allowed claims
Occupational Disease Reform Alliance (province-wide alliance of which PODAC is a member)

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Contact a WHSC training services representative in your area
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