He sat opposite the pressed suits around the adjudicator's
table; fidgety in torn, soiled, thrift-store giveaways, patchy bristles on his
sallow chin giving off a steady whiff of booze and butts.
Andrew Finlayson wasn't always like that, although
WorkSafe BC would have you think so.
No, there was a time when Finlayson's enthusiasm, energy
and attention to detail elevated him up the ranks to fork-lift driver and
supervisor at his work site, a bio-recovery plant in North Vancouver.
But that was before he submitted to WorkSafe's routine
annual hearing test administered at a mobile audio booth positioned on
As I detailed in this space two years ago, the botched
hearing test in 2001 triggered a swift and merciless decline of the
now-54-year-old loner -- the tester accidentally cranked the audio equipment to
full volume, discharging a high-pitched piercing whine into Finlayson's ears
that still rings today.
His hearing is fried. A shrill, siren sound accompanies
him 24/7, shattering the silence, rending to shreds all thought: tinnitus, a
permanent bilateral hearing loss, and hyperacusis, a sensitivity to light and
sound so painful his meetings with the vocational consultant had to take place
That said, they could have been held on the moon for all
the good they did: If the painful hearing and sound disability didn't drive him
off the deep end, years of WorkSafe's stubborn, willfully blind, callous
insistence that he didn't have a permanent disability and wasn't entitled to
wage loss and rehab sure did.
Only after countless appeals, reviews and blistering
scoldings by David Bradshaw, Local 1, Marine Workers & Boilermakers Union,
did WorkSafe finally come through -- Finlayson got a month's wages and a few
dollars pension for what they insisted was a little loss of function.
He was then advised to return to his pre-injury job.
Request for vocational rehab assistance denied.
The arbiter, like many others, had completely ignored the
medical reports that made it clear Finlayson was in no shape to return to his
old job and likely never would be.
But WorkSafe's officers weren't about to let the facts get
in the way -- even when provided by some of the country's top
The verdict of the medical experts: People with tinnitus
and hyperacusis are "majorly handicapped" and usually unable "to return to any
form of satisfactory employment."
With Bradshaw's help, Finlayson's brother Ian and
sister-in-law Claire, award-winning goldsmiths in Gibsons, hounded the injured
workers insurance company every step of the way. But as time dragged on and no
help was forthcoming, they had to watch as the once-earnest worker stumbled to
his knees; isolated, tormented, scrawny and boozing.
"[He] has deteriorated to the point where he advises his
family he is contemplating suicide on a regular basis," Bradshaw wrote the
disability claims adjudicator last May.
But by then the board's attitude was ho, hum -- he never
would have amounted to much anyway and besides, he had always drank.
It wasn't until Finlayson's file ended up on a review
division officer's desk that his fate began to change.
Robert Bal's 14-page decision last month cited major flaws
in the previous work of the board disability claims adjudicator, case manager,
disability awards officer and vocational rehab consultants.
Bal agreed Finlayson's "profound disability" made it
unlikely he could ever work again. He awarded him total loss of earnings back
But the damage was already done.