Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

Within days of announcing that for more cancers will be presumed work-related for full-time firefighters seeking compensation, Alberta proposed extending the same assumption to the 10,000 volunteer firefighters in the province.

The cancers added to the presumptive list under Alberta’s workers compensation act are prostate, breast, skin and multiple myeloma, lengthening the number of diseases to 14.

Alberto’s 3500 full-time firefighters already have automatic access to compensation. A recently tabled amendment to extend coverage to volunteer, part-time and casual on-call firefighters went to third reading on May 11, 2011.

“The research and some of the scientific data that continues to be compiled and received by us show that the volunteer firefighters are very much exposed to many of the same elements that full-time firefighters are exposed to and they can indeed, get cancer as a result,” says Barry Harrison, a spokesperson for Alberta Employment and Immigration (AEI) in Edmonton.

Any increase in workers compensation expenses is expected to be “negligible in comparison to the peace of mine” it could give firefighters who can contract cancer, Harrison says. AEI notes that British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut already have coverage for volunteer firefighters.

Al Schram, chief of the Edson Fire Department and first vice-president of the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association, says that “regardless of how many hours in a day are dedicated to their profession, our firefighters face risks to help Albertans.”

In neighbouring Manitoba, efforts are being taken to enhance firefighter recognition of warning signs of adverse health conditions. The Worker’s Compensation Board, (WCB) the United Firefighters of Winnipeg (UFFW) and Global Television recently partnered on an advertising campaign to promote safe work practices and screening of occupational cancers, says Tom Bilhous, a member of UFFW’s executive board in Winnipeg.

Based on packages sent to UF FW members, Bilhous says the television ad seeks to shed light on the importance of precautionary measures like prostate-specific antigen blood tests, chest X-rays and colonoscopies.

Warren Preece, director of communications for the WCB in Winnipeg, says the spot was to run until July 2, 2011 and also advocates balanced diet and healthy lifestyle choices.

Also in the works is a UFFW video, expected to be posted on the WCB’s website, describing safe work practices and early cancer detection. It will highlight proper decontamination techniques for firefighters, as well as the need to keep clear the gear clean. “The dirty gear and dirty helmet is not the badge of honour it once was,” Villa says.

“The science finally caught up with what firefighters had been suspecting for decades – that we have an elevated level of cancers among our members versus the general populace,” he says. And that, Bilhous adds, is “long overdue.”

My opinion

Not many provinces are lagging behind the province of Alberta when it comes to the safety of firefighters in dealing with the occupational hazards they may be exposed to everyday. As you can see, Alberta has never taken the lead in any health and safety field, at least that I know of. I wonder if they had made this decision based on being embarrassed in front of the rest of Canada? I wonder if health and safety pressure from within their own province drove some of the changes that we have described here today. Either way, I am glad they finally made it to the table. In their case, it is always better late than never!

As I have been stating for almost five years, the province of Alberta is not a leader in health and safety. They have the most health and safety professionals of any problems and training is of paramount importance (COR) but the government itself is not in the business of enforcement and, until changes are made internally, Alberta will take their place at the bottom of the pile and wait for the rest of us to decide for them.

Remember – Alberta Health and Safety – An Oxymoron!

Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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