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|Local 110 Wellness of Workers (WoW) Centre

Local 110 Wellness of Workers (WoW) Centre

We all read about the dangers of asbestos. For members of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 110 and other building trades members, those dangers are all too real. Asbestos isn’t just present in insulation. It is in many other materials that building trades workers encounter. It is a killer. And it is one of many materials that insulators and other building trades workers face in their workplaces. Local 110 didn’t wait for someone else to do something about it.

Standing Up for Local 110 Members

We now know that insulators face increased heart and lung health risks due to their exposure to asbestos and other materials. Health problems include pleural plaque formation, pleural effusions, mesothelioma, lung cancer, and chronic bronchitis. For many years, the anecdotal evidence of this linkage seemed overwhelming. Yet medical testing and record-keeping to prove it was lacking.

If you were an insulator, how could you prove a WCB claim? Pulmonary Function Tests (PFT) to detect lung damage had been in contract agreements since the early 1970s. But getting a test wasn’t easy. Results weren’t always accurate. There was no consistent baseline data to prove the case. And there was no consistent database of medical evidence.

Even with the apparent dangers, insulators were often reluctant to go to a doctor. Or they were too busy working long hours. Or they just didn’t want to know. Education was needed. That’s when Local 110 took action.

Local 110 First Members PFT Testing

The first group of 110 members that did a PFT with the Local in 1966. All passed away due to illness caused by the trade except one. By 2012, the average life expectancy of a unionized mechanical insulator was about 52 years of age.
Photo Credit: International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, Local 110

Local 110, one of first group of members having chest X-ray

One of the first group of 110 members having a chest X-ray.
Photo Credit: International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, Local 110

Founding of Wellness of Workers

In 2011, to help protect its members, Local 110 in conjunction with Synergy Respiratory & Cardiac Care founded the WoW Centre. Through CBA negotiations 10 cent/Hr. was set aside to fund the WoW program. To house the WoW Center, Local 110 purchased a portion of the 5000 sq. ft. Synergy Respiratory & Cardiac Care clinic (Unit 201) in the Synergy Wellness Centre located in Sherwood Park.

The WoW program focuses on early detection and monitoring. Local 110 members in good standing, retirees, spouses and children can go to the WoW Centre.

Educating Members

Local 110 is making sure its members are educated and participating in the WOW program.

  • WOW is talked about at union meetings.
  • Anyone going through the pre-apprenticeship course provided by the Local must have a PFT before going to a job.
  • The WoW program is highlighted in new member orientation, and new members are encouraged to go to the WoW Centre to identify any issues and to make certain there is baseline data.
  • Current members can book an appointment for a health risk assessment and also receive a Pulmonary Function Test and Chest X Ray.
  • Local 110’s Health and Welfare plan requires that PFT’s be updated every 2 years however there are no out of pocket costs to the members.
  • Members in other parts of the province are strongly encouraged to visit the WoW Centre for testing because the facility is accredited by the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the equipment meets all current industry standards, your health information is stored as per the Health Information Protection Act & Alberta Privacy Commission and are retained for historic comparisons. For member convenience the WoW Centre has opened a full PFT Lab in Fort McMurray.
  • The WoW program and its research findings have also been presented to the annual BTA provincial conference and to national and international medical audiences.

The WOW program is the only program that focusses on changing long-standing medical beliefs regarding lung disease by gathering scientific data on occupational exposures insulators and other construction workers.

Kevin Lecht, Business Manager, International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, Local 110

The WoW program is Making a Difference

By 2019, roughly 1123 of Alberta’s unionized insulators were part of the WoW program. Since the inception of WoW centre more than 60% of Local 110 members seen were referred on to a lung specialist and about 45% to a heart specialist for further follow up.

Early diagnosis and proper treatment are helping Local 110 members. According to Kevin Lecht, some members would not be alive today if not for the early detection provided to all members through the WOW Centre – members like Joe V.

I would encourage all insulators to take time to go to the WoW Centre. I was skeptical about buying into the centre at first. But, now since I’ve gone myself and had extensive testing done, they found out I have an underlying heart condition that requires open heart surgery. I had no symptoms. Please use this service. You are invested in it and owe it to yourself and your loved ones.

Joe V.

Information provided by the WoW Center to WCB has successfully reversed a number of their rejected claims to the benefit of Local 110 members. With these reversals of rejected claims there is now precedence to secure proper future compensation for members, or their beneficiaries.

WoW Centre’s expertise is also crucial to lobbying government for action. PFT as surveillance monitoring, for instance, remains in Occupational Health and Safety legislation due to the successful lobbying of the WoW Centre.

Finally, in December 2018, Canada’s federal government announced a ban on asbestos and the use of products containing asbestos. The ban followed many years of lobbying by Insulators and all Canada’s Building Trades Unions.  But there is still much to be done.

What’s Next for Local 110 and the WoW Centre?

Local 110 and WoW are working to make sure the benefits of WoW’s early detection program are understood by all the members of the BTA and by mechanical insulators and trades workers in other jurisdictions so that they can obtain this unprecedented level of care.

The WoW Centre is also making sure its research findings on the effects of exposure to occupational health hazards are known within the medical community by presenting them at the Canadian Respiratory Conference 2019, American Thoracic Society Conference (2016, 2018 & 2019) and the European Respiratory Conference (2018 & 2019 to be confirmed).

Every union in Alberta needs to get involved for their members because no matter the trade all construction workers are facing the same health problems and it is better to find it and treat it early than wait until it hurts. By then, it is usually too late.

Kevin Lecht, Business Manager, International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, Local 110


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