About OHCOW

Collage of photos showing a variety of workplace situations that OHCOW can assist with

About OHCOW

Collage of photos showing a variety of workplace situations that OHCOW can assist with

About Us

Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s workers in Ontario became increasingly aware of the toll of injury and disease caused by dangerous and unhealthy working conditions. A groundswell of opinion demanded more effective diagnosis of work-related health problems and effective prevention strategies. The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) was established in 1989 by the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and is funded through the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL). The first clinic opened in 1989 in Hamilton, with subsequent clinics opened in Toronto, Windsor, Sudbury, Sarnia, Thunder Bay and more recently Ottawa.

Staffed by an inter-disciplinary team of nurses, hygienists, ergonomists, researchers, client service coordinators and contracted physicians, each OHCOW clinic provides comprehensive occupational health services and information in five areas:

  • An inquiry service to answer work-related health and safety questions
  • Medical diagnostic services for workers who may have work-related health problems
  • Group service for workplace health and safety committees and groups of workers
  • Outreach and education to increase awareness of health and safety issues, and promote prevention strategies.
  • A research services to investigate and report on illnesses and injuries.

Our clients include workers, joint health and safety committees or representatives, unions, employers, health professionals, community groups, legal clinics, students and members of the public.

OHCOW is governed by an eighteen person volunteer Board of Directors. At the local level each of the seven clinics has a Local Advisory Committee. The management of OHCOW is comprised of the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and the Executive Directors of the seven clinics.

Mission Statement

The mission of the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. (OHCOW) is: to protect workers and their communities from occupational disease, injuries and illnesses; to support their capacity to address occupational hazards; and to promote the social, mental and physical well-being of workers and their families.

We strive to accomplish this through the identification of workplace factors which are detrimental to the health and well-being of workers; by empowering workplace parties to make positive occupational health changes in their workplace and by providing information, knowledge and organizational skills to the workplace parties to eliminate work practices that cause injury, illness and disability.


Vision Statement

The detection, prevention and elimination of occupational disease, injuries and illnesses, and the promotion of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being for all workers.

Our History

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Ontario workers struggled to secure basic health and safety rights. The miner’s strike in Elliott Lake 40 years ago is a classic example. Key rights were gained under the 1978 Occupational Health and Safety Act after the Ham Commission. But there remained concern about exposure risks, including the need for independent medical services to recognize and validate linkages with disease in order to substantiate claims and drive prevention.

The first union-sponsored Occupational Health Clinic in North America was started by the United Steelworkers of America, Local 1005 in Hamilton in 1981 in conjunction with activist doctors from McMaster’s Occupational Health Program. And building on its success, the Ontario Federation of Labour secured an agreement with the Ministry of Labour in 1988 to fund a pilot project—leading to the creation of OHCOW’s first clinics (in Hamilton and Toronto) in 1989. In Windsor in the mid-1980’s, a mesothelioma widow, (Lucie Dunn), initiated meetings to build support for the victims of asbestos-related diseases.

The victims’ group sponsored a local clinic in 1987, becoming part of OHCOW in 1991, concurrent with a new Sudbury clinic to serve northern workers. The Sarnia clinic began in 1999 to service the escalating number of patients from that area. And Thunder Bay was added in 2010 to improve access in the northwest.From the beginning the clinic staff worked hard at integrating primary (preventing harmful exposures), secondary (screening for early health indications), and tertiary (recognizing work-relatedness, optimizing treatment and, if possible, return to work) prevention into both the clinical and field work.

“These centres will vastly increase the availability to workers of independent medical assessments, including occupational histories and physical examinations by occupational health specialists, and medical monitoring of workers exposed to hazardous substances. In addition, they will contribute to improved industrial hygiene standards and will serve as sources of data for epidemiological studies to determine the relationship between work hazards and disease.”
– Labour Minister Greg Sorbara announcing funding for the first two clinics in April 1988.
Guided by Local Advisory Committees, each clinic has grown and evolved to meet the needs of the community they serve. In 1989, the demand for medical surveillance for designated substances dominated field work. As manufacturing declined, indoor air quality and ergonomics became more common requests. Asbestos issues grew, particularly in Sarnia, resulting in thousands of patients over the years. The Sudbury clinic quickly became an essential partner for communities with scarce resources. OHCOW Toronto served a densely populated area (Mississauga to the Quebec border) managing numerous requests with diligence and creativity. Hamilton staff became involved in epidemiological investigations early on, and the techniques (e.g. questionnaires and medical screening) are now used across the organization.

About 10 years ago, Windsor, and then the Hamilton and Toronto clinics, became involved with migrant workers, evolving into targeted clinics, often held evenings or on weekends in community locations. This work is now expanding to other vulnerable worker communities. In a similar vein, the Thunder Bay clinic has developed significant linkages recently with native bands in their area. OHCOW is a small organization of dedicated professionals—making it nimble and responsive—but the reach and impact has been magnified significantly by numerous partnerships with a myriad of organizations and individuals. Connections to workers and their representatives have been especially valuable in keeping efforts grounded, practical and timely. The statistics are impressive. Over the years the multi-disciplinary occupational health teams in the OHCOW clinics have worked on more than 31,000 patient cases and 11,500 workplace interventions; developed over 500 occupational health-based prevention tools and resources; presented greater than 10,500 education sessions; and responded to more than 100,000 work-related inquiries.

Workplace hazards and concerns have evolved and changed over time, as has technology. OHCOW strives to stay current and informed, venturing recently into a collaboration to address burgeoning workplace stress and mental health issues and even developing smartphone apps. The issues and tools change, but the underlying need for occupational health expertise, assistance and support to the workers and workplaces of Ontario doesn’t. The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers is as relevant today as it was the day it began.

Celebrating the Past

A video on OHCOW’s history and past achievements created to celebrate
the organization’s 25th Anniversary in October 2014

OHCOW Clinics

Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers are dedicated to the identification and prevention of work-related illnesses. At the core of each clinic is a dedicated staff trained in occupational medicine, who are available to provide medical examinations for a full range of work-related illnesses.

The clinics are open to anyone with a possible occupational health problem.

More about >

OHCOW Organization Chart

2021-22

OHCOW 2021-22 Organization Chart

Note: Enlarge the image above by clicking on it

OHCOW Board of Directors

OHCOW’s Board of Directors is an appointed group of diverse individuals, chosen represent the stakeholders we serve. Our Board of Directors guides our strategic direction, while our leadership team carries out the Board’s mandate.

David Chezzi
President and Chair of the Board

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

Tracie Edward
Vice-President and Vice-Chair of the Board

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)

Scott Richardson
L.A.C. Chair –Windsor

Treasurer of the Board, Injured Worker Advocate, UNIFOR Local 444

Bob DeMatteo

Secretary of the Board, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)

Natasha Luckhardt

Member-at-Large
Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL)

Sylvia Boyce

United Steel Workers (USW)

Gavin Jacklyn

Ontario Professional Firefighters Association

Sari Sairanen

National Health & Safety Director, UNIFOR

Debora De Angelis

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada

Angela Preocanin

Ontario Nurses’ Association (O.N.A)

John Bartolomeo

Community member, Workers’ Health and Safety Legal Clinic

Janet Paterson

Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups (ONIWG)

Rona Eckert

Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW)

Russ Archibald
L.A.C. Chair – Hamilton

Teamsters Rail Conference

Laura Lozanski*
L.A.C. Chair – Ottawa

Andréane Chénier*
L.A.C. Chair – Sudbury

United Steel Workers (USW)

Mark Ellerker

Hamilton Brantford Building Trades (HBBT)

Michele Lalonge-Davey
L.A.C. Chair – Sarnia & Area

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

Diane Parker
L.A.C. Chair – Thunder Bay

Scott West
L.A.C. Chair – Toronto

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF)

Michael Roche*
Chief Executive Officer

Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW)

 

*Non-Voting Members

The OHCOW Team

The following groups of experts make up the OHCOW Leadership Team,
who all work diligently to serve Ontario workers and workplaces to the best of their abilities.

Careers with OHCOW

The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers is an independent, not-for-profit, province-wide occupational health and safety clinic system. Funded through the Ministry of Labour, we provide services and resources to workers, employers, advocates, health providers and organizations in the province of Ontario, for the identification and prevention of occupational illness, injury and disease.

Annual Report(s)

Our Community Outreach and Achievements for 2020/2021 are Highlighted in our Current Annual Report.

Cover of the OHCOW 20/21 Annual Report
2020/2021

VIEW PAST REPORTS and FINANCIAL STATEMENTS >

Accessibility at OHCOW

OHCOW is committed to providing an accessible experience to all those who require it.
Our 2020-25 Accessibility Plan outlines the actions that OHCOW has/will incorporate to improve opportunities for people with disabilities.