“The fight of my life”

News 4 February, 2018
  • Photo Agence QMI, Daniel Mallard
    Michel Juneau (right) was contested before the administrative Tribunal of the work a decision of the CNESST, who refused to recognize his occupational disease of the lungs. On the photo, we can see it in the company of the lawyer Marc Bellemare.

    Dominique Lelièvre

    Sunday, 4 February, 2018 00:00

    Sunday, 4 February, 2018 00:00

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    A man suffering from a severe lung disease after being exposed to chemical irritants in his work is thought to have been abandoned by the system, who had to lead a battle of $ 25,000 for compensation.

    In the 80’s and 90’s, Michel Juneau performing a job that few people were willing to make. It penetrated the tanks of acid, paint in the bilges of a boat, the chimneys of the smelter or the waste incinerators in order to make operations such as industrial cleaning using a jet of water at high pressure.

    The worker, 57-year-old has worked in demanding conditions, often in confined spaces. The safety standards were minimal at the time. Even the wearing of a protector of the respiratory tract was not required, ” says the one who didn’t know, at this time, that an invisible evil the was stirring.

    “I have been in contact with dust, various acids, mercury, ammonia, formaldehyde “, lists the man who is running out of steam now by doing a simple walk and that must be connected 18 hours a day to a bottle of oxygen. “I knew this was not good for the health when I started poking around on the internet “, laments he.

    Photo courtesy

    Mr. Juneau did his task with the help of a powerful jet of water.

    Refusal of the CNESST

    Michel Juneau has definitively left the industry in 2003, but it was not until years later that her health has deteriorated to the point of preventing him from working fully in 2014.

    In 2016, his doctor informs him that he is suffering from a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease severe, and it makes for the first time a link with his years in the cleaning industry. Mr. Juneau is turning to the standards Commission, equity, health and safety in the workplace (CNESST), but to her surprise, denied his request for benefits. “It is a disease […] which seems to us to be of personal origin,” write the experts of the CNESST in their decision, suggesting that the past of smoking worker’s and heart disease-that afflict it are more to blame.

    An adventure expensive

    “The CSST [now specify CNESST], they are supposed to be there for the workers, but when there are cases like me, they will look more at the calculator,” says Mr. Juneau, who was forced to engage the lawyer Marc Bellemare and produce expert reports that are costly to convince a court.

    An adventure which he estimated at 25 000 $. “I had to make a meeting of family to ask for a portion of my inheritance [to my parents], because it was the fight of my life “, the breath, the man with modest means, the tight throat.

    On the 22nd of January last, the administrative Court’s work acknowledges that ” the case of the worker is severe “, and reversed the decision of the CNESST. Michel Juneau will be entitled to retroactive benefits for the past 10 years. If he is pleased with this outcome, the man is still bitter from his experience. “I can start living again,” he concludes.

    The occupational diseases in Quebec in 2016

    • 8235 : Claims allowed
    • 5182 : Claims denied or not processed
    • 13 417 : Total claims
    • 127 : Death from an occupational disease
    • $ 2 billion : Benefit payments for occupational injuries (accidents and diseases)

    * Source : annual statistics of the CNESST

    A burden of proof to bear

    The burden of proof is sometimes a heavy burden for workers suffering from an occupational disease, the more insidious and difficult to demonstrate, according to the lawyer Marc Bellemare.

    “In the case of occupational diseases, it is even worse than in the case of work-related accidents, because an accident is a sudden event, it is a fall down a scaffold […], it lasts two seconds, it is easy. But an occupational disease, it is necessary to look at the history, the concentration of [contaminants] in the case of lung diseases, and when it is a smoker [the experts of the CNESST] go very quickly on the side of the tobacco, ” says the lawyer.

    Such diseases are still common, says he, even if prevention and safety standards are far more important than in the past.

    Things get complicated quickly for the workers who are told not by the CNESST, as illustrated by the case of Michel Juneau, ” says mr. Bellemare. “In the background, it puts it on the back of the worker any obligation to go looking for information,” he says.

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    “You need to understand that it is not in the world of educated people and who have all their minds and all their abilities, their energy. It is in the world of people destroyed, diseased, over-medicated, ” says the lawyer, who believes that the bureaucracy can scare off many workers.

    Invited to comment on these remarks, the CNESST had to recall the circumstances in which it recognizes as an occupational disease.

    “For a disease to be recognized as an occupational disease by the CNESST, it must have been incurred from or in connection with work, and [it is necessary] that it is characteristic of this work or related to the specific risks of this work,” explained the spokesperson, Geneviève Trudel.