An injured salt mine worker in Ontario says he has contemplated suicide after a decade-long fight for compensation, a fight that he now may have to wait at least another year before it is resolved.
Alan Facchinato, 55, of Goderich, Ont., has been battling with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) since 2006 in a quest for compensation for a serious back injury sustained on the job.
The long, drawn-out process has made his life "a living hell" in his words. He's been waiting a year for the board's independent appeals tribunal to hear his case and now he's learned he has to wait at least another year due to a backlog.
'I'm a shell of the man I used to be. I feel empty. I feel desolate.' - Alan Facchinato, Injured Worker
"It's a ridiculous time frame," said Facchinato. "I never thought it would drag on like this. I'm a shell of the man I used to be. I feel empty. I feel desolate."
"I have a heart. I'm a human being," he added. "They've broken me down to the point where I can't fight anymore. It gets to the point where I think 'hey suicide is a really good option right now' because there's no pain."
Facchinato's not alone in his wait.
There are "significant delays" of two to three years for injured workers dissatisfied with the board's decision to have their case heard by an independent tribunal, said Thomas Teahen, the president of the WSIB.
"Our system shouldn't have the delays," Teahen said on CBC's Ontario Today. He said he has committed to the minister and deputy minister to streamline the process to get delay times down.
"We for sure need to do a better job."
Ombudsman monitoring problem
The delays are a problem the ombudsman of Ontario is currently assessing to find out if a systemic investigation is warranted, according to Paul Dubé's most recent annual report.
His office has received an increase in complaints about the tribunal over the past year, with most involving delays. There were 128 complaints in 2015-2016, up from 99 the fiscal year before.
The office looked into the cause of delays and found that the number of injured workers appealing the board's decision has doubled over the last few years.
That's meant that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT) has had its workload doubled too — from 4,000 active appeals to more than 9,000, according to the report.
Worker says it's 'ludicrous'
Facchinato calls it "ludicrous" that he filed his appeal with the tribunal in September 2015 and was told this month not to expect a hearing until the end of 2017.
"It's a living hell, day in and day out," said Facchinato. "I have to get some closure. It's like they're doubting my integrity. I don't lie. I tell the truth. When you doubt my integrity, my truthfulness, it cuts very deep."
Facchinato worked 27 years driving heavy machinery on uneven roads underground at the Sifto Salt mine in Goderich, the Lake Huron community about 120 km northwest of Kitchener, Ont.
He said the constant pounding took its final toll on his back in 2006. He had to have surgery on a disc and returned to work in a different role fixing miner's headlights. He said he could only work for six hours a day, until the pain was too much, but says he was pushed by his employer and WSIB to work eight hours a day.
In November 2015, Facchinato says he collapsed on the job and was rushed to hospital. That was last day he ever worked.
Faccinato has been trying to get benefits and a percentage of his salary ever since.
'It's a living hell, day in and day out. I have to get some closure.' - Alan Faccinato, Injured Worker
"I never got one red cent," he said. "It's taken a toll."
His first marriage ended, and he went from making $100,000 a year to living off of $14,000 from the Canada Pension Plan.
"That's all I get," he said. "It's really tough. You can't live on that kind of money now a days."
Appeals tribunal hires new chair
The province appointed David Corbett as the new Chair of the WSIAT in September. The president of the WSIB says he's already met with him once and says they are both committed to working together to fix the problem.
'Workers deserve speedy hearings from us and the tribunal' - Thomas Teahen, the president of the WSIB
"Workers deserve speedy hearings from us and the tribunal," said Teahen.
Facchinato says he's happy Teahen wants to improve the system, but says workers who have been living and breathing the long wait times are under so much duress, the damage is done — they're broken.
"I wish he could put his body, his mind, his soul into the position of a guy or person that's actually waiting," said Facchinato. "They will never understand what it's like until they're in that position."