Multiple chemical sensitivity at work guide for PSAC members

Persons with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) are afflicted by a condition that affects their physical health as well as their professional, psychological, social and family lives. It is a disorder that is not well understood or recognized by many medical practitioners. The consequences for sufferers of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity are two fold:

  • on one hand, they experience difficulty in obtaining social recognition and support from family, friends and co-workers; on the other,
  • the condition is not recognized by the various social and financial programs resulting in a serious financial burden for MCS sufferers.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada is taking the lead by giving persons with MCS union recognition. The Alliance believes that the medical profession’s inability to come up with a conclusive diagnostic test for MCS cannot be considered as proof that the illness does not exist. We see once healthy members becoming sicker and sicker, developing MCS after being exposed to hazardous substances in their workplaces. Workers affected by this illness should not be held hostage to medical debate. They are victims of work related exposures and should be recognized as injured at work. They should be eligible for social and financial benefits.

MCS is a union health and safety issue. We must be involved for the benefit of the victims as well as for the benefit of all workers. We must work towards the recognition of MCS as an occupational disease. As long as there are conflicting views defining MCS either as a psychiatric problem or a condition affecting “more sensitive” and “unprotectable” individuals, the fact that many more workers are continuing to be affected by hazardous work environments may never be forced into the open.

The Alliance chose MCS as one of two topics for its 1993 National Health and Safety Conference. It was the first time a Canadian union held a conference on the issue. During the Conference, participants received information on the illness itself, the causes and preventive measures, as well as on the pitfalls which sufferers encounter while trying to obtain benefits or accommodation in the workplace. Speakers included members of the Alliance from MCS, a medical researcher, an engineer, a biologist, benefit experts, lawyers, and leaders of our Union.

During the workshops, participants indicated that the Conference had increased their awareness and understanding of the issue. They shared information and discussed strategies on how to prevent hazardous substances in the workplace from claiming more victims. They also clearly stated the need for guidance on helping their sisters and brothers with MCS. This booklet has been produced by the Health and Safety Section of the Alliance in response to that request.

The support and information that the PSAC officers, members of the Health and Safety Committees and staff can provide to MCS sufferers must not be underestimated. We hope this booklet will make it easier for you to provide or obtain assistance. If you have comments or suggestions on the booklet, names of experts, information or experiences you would like to share, please do not hesitate to call 613.564.4200, fax 613.236.9402, or write the Programs Section, Health and Safety Program, Public Service Alliance of Canada, 233 Gilmour Street, Ottawa, Ontario K2P 0P1.