Quebec to reduce onus for farm workers seeking workers’ comp for Parkinson’s

Amended rule would grant 'presumption' for pesticide exposure

Illustration of the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons, a key stage of development of Parkinson’s disease. (Dr_Microbe/iStock/Getty Images)

Some Quebec farmers and farm workers with Parkinson’s disease may soon have an easier path to seek workers’ compensation — if they can show at least a certain amount of exposure to pesticides.

Provincial Labour Minister Jean Boulet on Tuesday tabled an amendment to bill 59, draft legislation that includes updates to Quebec’s workplace health and safety laws.

His amendment proposes to add Parkinson’s to the province’s list of work-related illnesses that “benefit from a presumption” requiring a reduced burden of proof — which in turn is expected to improve affected workers’ access to the workers’ compensation system.

In this case, the presumption will be conditional on affected farmers or employees having done work involving exposure to agricultural or veterinary pesticides for at least 10 years.

Also, a worker must have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s no more than seven years after his/her/their exposure to pesticides ends.

The amendment would also apply to workers in sectors where handling of pesticides is “possible,” the province said.

For the purposes of the amendment, work-related exposure to pesticides would be defined as handling or use of pesticides by contact or inhalation, or contact with treated crops, surfaces or animals, or contact with application equipment.

The proposed criteria are the same as what’s been used in France since 2012 for the same purpose, the province said.

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease, in which certain nerve cells break down in the brain over time, affecting movement and speech. No hard cause is known, but exposure to toxins and other environmental hazards is listed among several potential risk factors, such as heredity and age.

The proposed amendment, the province said, is meant to respond to concerns raised by groups including Parkinson Quebec as well as Quebec’s Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) during consultations.

Boulet, in Tuesday’s release, said he’s sensitive to concerns raised about the absence of Parkinson’s from Quebec’s list of presumed occupational diseases, and his proposed amendment lines up “directly” with his goal of improving access to the workers’ comp system.

The amendment, he said, is needed now to reflect the evolution of the workplace, where prevention must take a “central role.”

The Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) — the provincial body overseeing workplace safety and health programs — will continue to work with UPA and other players in affected sectors to support prevention efforts related to workplace pesticide use, the province said.

Adding Parkinson’s to the presumed occupational disease list demonstrates the government’s support for workers in the ag sector, provincial Agriculture Minister Andre Lamontagne said in the same release. Improving those workers’ access to the compensation plan will help ensure all are treated fairly, he added.

Monsef Derraji, the labour critic for the provincial Liberals, gave Boulet credit where due, but said in a separate release Tuesday that the proposed amendment also comes after the opposition party fought for two years alongside farmers and farm workers for its inclusion.

Parkinson Quebec has long called publicly for the province to recognize Parkinson’s as an occupational disease, noting both Sweden and France have already done so.

On its website, the organization points to “no less than eight” meta-analyses — that is, examinations of data from multiple studies on the same subject — as concluding that exposure to pesticides almost doubles one’s risk of developing Parkinson’s.

Occupational exposure “doubles to triples” that risk, particularly for pesticide applicators and grain growers, Parkinson Quebec said. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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