Miner loses compensation battle over pre existing condition

A placer miner blinded in a workplace accident is being denied compensation because paperwork is missing, according to the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.

A placer miner blinded in a workplace accident is being denied compensation because paperwork is missing, according to the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board.

Earl Watson, who was blasted in the face with toxic water while working on a gold mine near Dawson City, didn’t get the proper workplace injury report signed by the first doctor he met after the accident on May 25, 2009.

He also had a cataract in the eye which was blinded by the blast, and the compensation board believes the blindness has more to do with that pre-existing condition than the injury, according to its decision.

Watson has two years from the decision date to appeal. However, the former welder is now scrounging around for odd jobs. He doubts he’ll have the time or money to enter the WCB’s lengthy appeal process.

“It took a year for me to get this decision,” he said. “Who knows how long this could take?”

Since the injury, Watson has been forced to sell his truck. He now lives in Whitehorse.

The decision document is largely a comparison of doctors’ notes, with the board heavily siding with the Dawson City doctor who reported no abrasion in his eye, and did not say it was a workplace injury.

Watson was injured by a broken water pump that was sucking arsenic- and mercury-laden water from a leaky tailings pond at around 5 p.m. on May 25, 2009.

He was working alone with heavy machinery in the woods outside of Dawson. It was a dangerous situation and he should have had a partner, said the compensation board.

But it doesn’t enforce a buddy system on mine workers.

There was no pain in his eye until late in the evening, he said. He went to the Dawson Nursing Station around 4 a.m. the next morning, where he was examined by the doctor.

The doctor lacked experience with the office’s eye-examination machine and couldn’t get it working properly, said Watson.

The first doctor didn’t notice any abrasion or trauma in the eye, say doctors’ notes.

A Doctor’s Workers’ Compensation Initial Report was never submitted to the compensation board either.

During a May 29 doctor’s visit, Watson was diagnosed with an advanced cataract in his right eye and was in pain. He couldn’t open his right eye and his eyelid was swollen.

Following several other doctor’s visits, Watson lost sight in his right eye and his depth perception was shot.

But the deteriorating eyesight “is, on a balance of probabilities, due to his pre-existing condition and failure to obtain treatment for his eye in a timely manner and not the work-related injury.”

Watson’s damaged eyesight has nothing to do with the accident, says the decision.

He doesn’t believe the rapid deterioration of his eyesight, which prevents him from doing the work he used to do as a mechanic and welder, had nothing to do with the accident.

The pump in question was highly pressured and filled with hot, churning mud. The pressure was strong enough to push the toxic mud from the mine pit 140 metres over a hill.

After an initial story on Watson’s injury, a secret witness phoned the News and sent an anonymous letter that describes in detail what happened the day of the accident.

But the witness, who was driving past the minesite when the accident happened, won’t come forward because he was with “the wrong woman” in his truck that day.

“I stopped to watch to see what was going on, I noticed a man working on the pump, I was there for approximately 10 minutes when there was spray of water coming out of the top of the pump,” says the man’s letter.

“It knocked down the guy that was working on the pump and his hard hat went flying,” it says.

“Please give this account to the people that are involved with this injustice,” says the witness. “And apologize to Mr. Watson. Thanks.”

The employer at the site, Northern Shoveler Resources Ltd., hasn’t paid Watson his full wage yet either.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.

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