The United Steelworkers Union in Labrador City says more needs to be done to mitigate the effects of silica dust on workers at the Iron Ore Company of Canada mine, based on results of a study on the number of workers affected with silicosis.
"This is a little bit alarming for us. Especially with the dust conditions that we have onsite today," Ron Thomas, president of USW Local 5795, told the CBC.
Thomas said of 636 people tested, 515 had no signs of silicosis, 86 people show abnormalities to their lungs and 35 people have suspected cases of silicosis. Some of those cases have already been reported.
"If you get a letter that says you should go see your doctor, obviously you should," Thomas said.
"And if there's signs of silicosis my advice to you is to apply for worker's compensation and if anyone needs any help with that, I got no problem helping out the best I can."
The provincial government says Horizon Occupational Health Solutions, the company contracted to complete the medical x-ray audit, is still finalizing its report, but results have been shared with people who took part.
"We look forward to analyzing its findings so that we can enhance awareness and education for workers and medical professionals who assess and treat workers with occupational disease," a statement from Service NL read.
Air quality improvement needed
Breathing in silica dust, which is present on the mine site, can lead to silicosis — a lung disease which causes scarring on the tissues of the lung. It shows up a number of years after exposure and can increase the risk of other diseases including lung cancer.
"I think IOC's got to do more on improving the air quality in around the work site," Thomas said.
"What we're asking IOC to do now is improve their dust collectors and do some work on the dust collector systems and improve their equipment so that dust levels aren't inside the cab or inside the plants."
One bit of good news, Thomas said, is that there are two full time occupational health and safety officers being placed in the area, which is a huge improvement from flying them in every six months.
"With two full time people here they should be able to frequent the area quite often and make sure the company is following the proper procedures," Thomas said.
7 years late
A study done in 2000 concluded a follow up should be done in 10 years. The union said it's been trying since 2010 to get this one done.
"That's frustrating for us too. Every 10 years you're supposed to do it and it took them 15 years to do the first one," Thomas said, noting the union had been pushing the PC government to get it done but the study was completed only after the Liberals took power.
"Not very often are you going to hear me say something good about the Liberal government but that's one thing that they're doing that's good."