Cancer Cluster Case sent back to appeals by A.B.C. Supreme Court Justice

Cancer Cluster

Obviously, no one wants to be diagnosed with cancer and the idea is to do everything possible to avoid doing anything that would cause someone to contract the disease. With that said, employees should not be working in a setting that could put them at risk for getting the disease; however, if it were to occur such employees should be compensated fairly.

Supposedly, this is what happened to three women at Mission Memorial Hospital as they contend their work there caused them to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Initially, the Workers’ Compensation Board decided the three female employees diseases did not result from the work they did in MMH’s lab. However, that ruling was reversed and the cancer cluster case is heading back for an appeals ruling.

Several years ago, Anne MacFarlane, Patricia Schmidt and Katrina Hammer were diagnosed with breast cancer and felt that their work at Mission Memorial Hospital labs caused them to contract the disease. The Workers’ Compensation Board ruled that their unfortunate disease were not a result of the work that they did at the hospital. In 2010 and 2011, a Workers’ Compensation Administrative Tribunal disagreed. The purpose of WCAT is to hear workers’ compensation appeals as well as it is independent of WorkSafeBC.

The Fraser Health Authority had disputed the decision of the tribunal, and the judgment of Justice John Savage was released Tuesday. Though the FHA wanted the case to be dismissed, the decision handed down from Savage will send the case back to WCAT to see if any new evidence could alter the decision. Savage wrote that the decision reached by WCAT was “patently unreasonable and cannot stand” and that, “There was no positive evidence that the petitioners’ cancer was caused by occupational factors.”

Also, Savage noted that “a higher-than-expected rate of cancer in a workplace cannot alone provide evidence that the cancer was caused by occupational factors.” The Occupational Health and Safety for Healthcare in B.C. (OHSAH) report into the matter and states that clusters of cancer in relation to the workplace would statistically happen at various times and in various places.

In March 2004, OHSAH ran an investigation and their findings revealed 11 employees had cancer; seven of them had breast cancer. The conclusion was that risk factors were no longer present at the hospital and that though the rise of occurrences of cancer could not be determined; there were possible suggestions such as past exposures to chemical carcinogens or something less likely such as ionizing radiation.

Other suggestions were a statistical anomaly; or reproductive or other non-occupational risk factors. One thing that was noted was the air intake vent of the hospital lab’s location was near the incinerator smokestack where medical waste used to be burned. The report made by OHSAH made note of medical incineration of infectious wastes and plastics was a public concern. In 1944, the mission’s incinerator was decommissioned.

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