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Bill proposes expansion of presumptive coverage

VAUGHAN, Ont. (Canadian OH&S News)


VAUGHAN, Ont. (Canadian OH&S News)

Firefighters in Ontario may see an expansion in their presumptive occupational disease coverage if a private member’s bill calling for the inclusion of six additional types of cancers is passed.

Vaughan MMP Steven Dul Duca presented his second private member’s bill, Workplace Safety and Insurance Amendment Act (Presumptions for Firefighters), 2013 in the Ontario legislature on May 30. If passed, the bill will amend the Act by adding testicular, breast, skin, multiple myeloma and lung and prostate cancer to the list of those presumed to be job-related for the purpose of WSIB benefits if they were diagnosed on or after January 1, 1980.

“I am extremely proud to have brought forward a bill that supports those who risk their lives for our communities while in the line of duty. This is an important bill that members from all sides of the house should support,” Duca says in a statement from his office.

A press release issued by the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association in Burlington claims that the proposed legislation will bring Ontario in line with the occupational disease coverage that exists for professional firefighters in most provinces.

“Presumptive legislation is a matter of fairness for firefighters and our families, and we welcome legislation that strives to recognize more of the cancers that studies have linked to our profession,” says Mark McKinnon, a Toronto firefighter and president of the 11,000-member firefighter association. He adds that the bill reflects the reality that firefighters are exposed to numerous toxic substances in the course of their duties and as a result, face higher risks for certain cancers.

The proposed legislation builds on presumptive legislation passed in 2007 that deemed brain, bladder, kidney, ureter, esophageal and colorectal cancers, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, and heart injury within 24 hours after fighting a fire to be occupation-related. It also calls for the coverage for skin, lung and prostate cancers to be phased in at the beginning of 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. Coverage is rebuttable, meaning that the cancer is presumed occupational unless the contrary is shown.

Christine Arnott, spokesperson for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board in Toronto, says the decision of whether or not to expand presumptive legislation for firefighters rests with the government. “The WSIB is committed to providing quality and timely services to firefighters and their families. We adjudicate claims for occupational diseases as well as for injuries that occur in the workplace,” Arnott says.

She adds that the compensation board has taken various steps to ensure the effective implementation of decisions under the current presumptive legislation, including establishing a dedicated team to adjudicate claims. All firefighter claims that are potentially allowable under the regulations have been reviewed going back to 1960.

“The WSIB allows entitlement in cases meeting the requirements of the regulations and continues to investigate additional cases to determine entitlement,” Arnott says. “We also continue to work closely with the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association to identify cases and bring forward new claims.” Claims for diseases not covered by presumptive legislation are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, she adds.

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