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Former mine workers in Baie Verte get some help from SafetyNet

By Michelle Osmond

Memorial University’s research unit SafetyNet is setting up a registry to help identify miners who may have developed asbestos-related diseases at the now defunct Baie Verte Mine.

The Baie Verte Miners’ Registry is a partnership between the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission, the Baie Verte Peninsula Miners’ Action Committee and the United Steel Workers (USW). SafetyNet has been contracted to design and implement the registry. Researchers have 18 months to design the registry, contact as many former employees as possible and get them signed up for the registry, secure their employment and health data, and input that information before handing the registry over to the commission.

Dr. Stephen Bornstein, co-director of SafetyNet, said he believes asbestos is a very important occupational risk and it has played a significant role in the employment and health history of the province and the country.

“This is the first time in Canada, as far as I know, that a registry of this sort for an important occupational disease has been done on a consensual basis with collaboration among the commission, the union movement, the community and the university,” he said.

“It will allow researchers, the community and the commission to develop a better understanding of the health impacts of asbestos work and on the time-lag involved since asbestos-related diseases have a very long latency period.”

Dr. Bornstein said the project is an exciting opportunity for SafetyNet and its partners in several other Canadian universities both to advance the state of scientific knowledge in the field of occupational disease and to help improve the health and welfare of a key group of people  — the former employees of the Baie Verte mining operation.

“It’s also a great example of collaboration – collaboration between Memorial and other universities (UBC and Simon Fraser) and, above all, between researchers and stakeholders outside the university – the community of Baie Verte, the United Steel Workers, who have played an essential role in getting this project up and running, and the commission," said Dr. Bornstein.

“This is a breakthrough agreement for the United Steelworkers and workers everywhere, and with the critical information obtained through the registry it will be a turning point for fair compensation for victims of occupational disease,” said Nancy Hutchison, United Steelworkers, District 6, health, safety and environment co-ordinator. “We hope this announcement will set the pattern for other boards and governments across Canada as they too strive for justice for workers and their survivors.”

The Baie Verte Asbestos Mine was established in 1955 and ceased operations in 1992, employing about 3,000 workers. Former employees will be asked for their employment history, asbestos exposure information and health status. Once the registry is complete, researchers will use the data to better understand asbestos-related diseases and other occupational diseases. Work on the registry begins this month.

To contact the Baie Verte Miners’ Registry call: 1-888-737-7250 or visit them online.

SafetyNet is a Community Alliance for Health Research which studies occupational health and safety of marine and coastal work. SafetyNet has created a community alliance that includes researchers in medicine, nursing, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering and marine sciences, and involves partners in the public sector, private sector and in the coastal communities in which the research is taking place. The research program aims to conduct research that is relevant to the communities and agencies related to the areas of study while understanding the nature, distribution and causes of particular sets of occupational injury and disease. Furthermore, each project will contribute to the development of appropriate methods for the improvement of occupational health and safety.