Quebec bill could keep thousands of workers from getting help for occupational deafness
Thousands of Quebec workers with hearing problems will no longer be eligible for help under the Francois Legault government's occupational health and safety reform plan.
Labour Minister Jean Boulet argued the costs of occupational deafness have exploded, going from $40 million to $160 million and that the “intolerable status quo” must change.
Bill 59 imposes barriers to assistance and a group of clinics connected to the public network is arguing it could accentuate the distress and isolation of affected workers.
The Lobe Group is lobbying that the bill, which is currently under consideration, be amended.
“We must be a voice for thousands of workers,” said the group's president, Martin Cousineau. “These are significant human impacts.”
Under the new proposed criteria, one in six requests to open a file with CNESST would be refused, Cousineau estimated. That would represent $21 million in denied claims.
Currently, a worker may be entitled to medical assistance on the recommendation of a doctor, a disability depending on the “difficulty experienced” even if their deafness doesn't meet official standards “because the difficulty is relative to each individual,” said Cousineau.
However, Bill 59 would introduce thresholds that aren't based on scientific data, he said.
“It's unanimous in the world of hearing health. We all wonder where these figures come from,” he continued.
Cousineau's proposed solution is for the new criteria to be evaluated and established by a scientific committee.
The bill also would prevent a retired worker from claiming compensation for hearing loss caused by aging.
Studies show it takes an average of seven years between the time someone detects hearing loss before they get a consultation. The Lobe Group is calling for an exception in cases where a worker has documented hearing loss during their career.
The group is also asking that the bill take into account deafness caused by toxic products, sound trauma or tinnitus.
It's estimated that between 287,000 and 350,000 workers are exposed to noise levels high enough to cause occupational hearing loss.
“The consequences of unrecognized hearing problems are serious,” said Cousineau. “It results in cognitive fatigue, a decrease in quality of life, psychological distress. This is far from negligible because we live in a world of communication.”
Boulet has maintained that the bill ensures fairness and aligns with what other governments are doing.
The minister said the province can no longer compensate cases of personal deafness for retirees who have not been employed for more than five years and who are over 60, he said.
“These are considerable advances, of course there are some that it can hurt,” he said.