(Canadian OH&S News) — The government of Ontario is expanding the qualifications for workers’ compensation for career firefighters. Premier Kathleen Wynne announced on April 30 that the province would add six types of cancer to the list of diseases that count as work-related for firefighting professionals.
As of Premier Wynne’s announcement, breast cancer, multiple myeloma and testicular cancer have been newly classified as diseases that can result from firefighting work. The government also plans to add prostate, lung and skin cancer to the list of illnesses presumed to be work-related by 2017.
“Firefighters face dangerous situations every day, and the risks are both immediate and long-term,” Premier Wynne said in a statement. “While we can never fully remove these dangers, we can, as a government, ensure firefighters have access to the highest quality of care and support.”
The Ontario Premier credited a private member’s bill by Steven Del Duca, the MPP for Vaughan, for spurring on these legislative changes.
The government said in an April 30 press release that the extension of presumptive status for these cancers would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 1960. It applies to firefighters who work on a full-time, part-time or volunteer basis and to fire investigators. The intention is to reverse the burden of proof for firefighters who suffer from these diseases and want to claim coverage under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.
“Every day, Ontario firefighters risk their health and lives to protect us,” Kevin Flynn, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, was quoted as saying in the release. “All Ontarians would agree that we also have a responsibility to protect them. Increasing the number of cancers presumed to be caused by firefighting work is the compassionate thing to do and makes Ontario a leading jurisdiction in this area.”
Ontario government representatives were unavailable to speak to COHSN, due to commitments to the upcoming provincial election in June.
Previously, the government had added eight types of cancer — brain, bladder, kidney, esophageal, ureter and colorectal cancer, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and specific types of leukemia — to the list of presumably work-related diseases in 2007. The new additions followed seven years of lobbying by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) to expand the number of diseases presumed work-related in the sector.
“We’re certainly extremely pleased for firefighters and for their families, that we were able to achieve that recognition,” said OPFFA president Mark McKinnon. “We’ve been lobbying for it for several years.”
McKinnon explained that “a toxic soup of chemicals” in modern fires had expanded the dangers for people in the profession, regardless of the state-of-the-art protective gear that firefighters wear now. “In the old days, when everything was built of wood and raw fabrics, you didn’t have the chemicals that you do have in today’s TVs and furniture and everything,” McKinnon explained. “And those chemicals affect firefighters, and not necessarily through inhalation, through smoke, but in through our skin.”
As a result, firefighters are more likely to suffer from these types of cancer than the general population, McKinnon added, citing research indicating that firefighters contract testicular cancer at twice the rate that other people do and approximately five years earlier.
He said that he also wanted to see post-traumatic stress disorder recognized as a presumptive condition for firefighters.
Ontario is not the first Canadian province to start acknowledging links between firefighting and several cancers this year. In February, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Workplace Health, Safety & Compensation Commission recommended that the provincial government update legislation to classify cancer as a workplace hazard for firefighters.