Highlights of Noteworthy Decisions

Decision 2439 12
J. Moore - B. Wheeler - M. Ferrari
  • Automotive industry
  • Benefit of the doubt
  • Cancer (esophagus)
  • Exposure (metalworking fluids)

The worker worked for an auto parts manufacturer from 1982 until 2008. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer at age 47 in 2009. He died in 2010. The worker's estate appealed a decision of the Appeals Resolution Officer denying entitlement for the cancer.

From 1982 to 1984, the worker worked in the machine shop. From 1984 to 1990, he was a grinding machine operator. In 1990, he became a quality control inspector. The estate submitted that the worker's cancer was related to exposure to metalworking fluids, particularly when working as a grinding machine operator.
The worker had a significant history of gastric symptoms, involving regurgitation of stomach fluids, including stomach acid and bile, into the esophagus. There was evidence that eight to 10 years of chronic acid exposure can lead to the development of Barrett's esophagus which, in turn, significantly increases the risk of development of esophageal cancer.
In the absence of exposure to metalworking fluids, it would be reasonable to conclude that the gastric condition was the likely cause of the worker's esophageal cancer. However, there was workplace exposure to metalworking fluids in this case, starting in 1982 and especially while working as a grinding machine operator for the six years from 1984 to 1990. It was also noted in the medical evidence that the worker had adenocarcinoma as opposed to small cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma is the type of esophageal cancer that is associated with an increased risk from exposure to metalworking fluids.
The statutory benefit of doubt provision is not intended to be a substitute for evidence. In this case, the evidence provided support for competing theories. The evidence for these competing theories was limited but that did not preclude a determination. The evidence for the competing theories was equal in weight. Applying the benefit of doubt in favour of the worker, the Panel concluded that the worker had entitlement for esophageal cancer.
The appeal was allowed.