Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine
Firefighters in Newfoundland and Labrador are looking forward to legislative changes that will allow them to claim workers’ compensation for cancer in the future, after a report by the province’s Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC) recommends that cancer be considered a workplace hazard for career firefighters.
The report, Working Together: Safe, Accountable, Sustainable, released on February 14, 2014, recommends that the provincial government legislative separate compensation act for career firefighting professionals and include in the act a rebuttal presumptive clause for recognized cancers and latency periods.
The WHSCC also suggest having “a separate, sustainable fund that is fully funded by the municipalities employing career firefighters” and that it should be supported by the “existing occupational disease fund, until such time as it is fully funded by the municipalities.” “The report lists the types of cancers that firefighters risk contracting, which include brain, bladder, kidney and testicular cancer.
While the report’s recommendations will have to be passed in the provincial legislature before they can be declared law, Doug Cadigan, president of St. John’s Fire Fighters Association, says he is pleased with the report’s findings. “We just look forward now to sitting down and working with government and getting this to the next step.”
This is not the first time that calls for cancer legislation have been made, Cadigan says in reference to an attempt to get a similar law passed in 2006. “We received the recommendation that this be enacted, and it has gone nowhere.” As a result, Newfoundland and Labrador remains one of three provinces that do not have legislation recognizing cancer as a firefighting hazard – the other two being Québec and Prince Edward Island.
Several major academic studies throughout the continent have established a link between cancer and the firefighting profession. “The facts have been re-verified that firefighters are of a much higher risk of cancer than the general public,” Cadigan says, citing inhaling fumes as one of the dangers.
While firefighters are equipped with breathing apparatuses and protective gear, chemicals can penetrate protective clothing and get absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. “A lot of these chemicals can be contacted after an incident through just handling of turnout gear,” Cadigan adds.
Another change in the workers compensation system that Cadigan would like to see involves the limits of coverage. Currently, provincial workers receive 80% of their annual net earnings up to $60,000. In the event that a worker whose salary bracket is about that Gets injured, “you take an awful personal financial hit.”
The Ontario government is extending health care protection for firefighters — all the way back to 1960.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said the province will increase cancer coverage for firefighters by adding six cancers to the list of those presumed to be related to their jobs.
“We want to ensure that firefighters can get the support that they need and the care they need,” Wynne said at a news conference in a Toronto-area fire station.
“Firefighters face incredible risks every day — not only in the blazes they battle, but in the smoke they breathe in and all that is in that smoke.”
Breast cancer, multiple myeloma and testicular cancer will be added to the list immediately. Prostate cancer, lung cancer and skin cancer will be phased in by the end of 2017. The addition of all six will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 1960.
Wynne said the changes will make it easier for firefighters to qualify for benefits under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.
Cancers already on the list include brain, bladder and kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and certain types of leukemia.
Personally, I was wondering why it took so long!
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Daniel L. Beal
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HRS Group Inc.