OHS Canada Magazine

Link between firefighting and cancer acknowledged

March 3, 2014

Occupational Hygiene Health & Safety Occupational diseases/infectious diseases Workers Compensation - Claims

(Canadian OH&S News)

(Canadian OH&S News)

Firefighters in Newfoundland and Labrador are hoping for legislative changes that will allow them to claim workers’ compensation for cancer in the future. A recent report by the province’s Workplace Health, Safety & Compensation Commission (WHSCC) has recommended that cancer be considered a workplace hazard for career firefighters.

The report, titled Working Together: Safe, Accountable, Sustainable and released to the public on Feb. 14, is a detailed review of the province’s workers’ comp system. It includes a section that recommends that the provincial government legislate a separate compensation act for career firefighting professionals and “include in the act a rebuttable presumptive clause for recognized cancers and latency periods.”

The WHSCC also suggests that there should be “a separate, sustainable fund that is fully funded by the municipalities that employ 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 section includes a list of the types of cancer that firefighters risk contracting, including brain, bladder, kidney and testicular cancer.

A media source with the Newfoundland and Labrador government cautioned that the recommended actions were still far from being a reality. “We need to do an in-depth analysis at this point in time,” the source said. “We haven’t identified one specific recommendation. We’ve released the report, people can provide us with comments, but we need to do that in-depth analysis.” Afterwards, the recommendations would still need to be passed in the provincial legislature and declared as law.


But some Newfoundland firefighting professionals are already pleased with the recommendations. The St. John’s Fire Fighters Association (SJFFA) posted a public statement lauding the WHSCC report on its website on Feb. 22.

“As an organization, yes, we are pleased,” SJFFA president Doug Cadigan told COHSN. “We just look forward now to sitting down and working with government and getting this to the next step.”

But Cadigan added that this wasn’t the first time that recommendations about cancer legislation had moved forward. “We’ve been here before,” he said, referring to an attempt to get a similar law passed in 2006. “We received a recommendation that this be enacted, and it has gone nowhere.”

NL one of three provinces without legislation

As a result, Newfoundland and Labrador remains one of three provinces that still have no legislation recognizing cancer as a firefighting hazard, the other two being Quebec and Prince Edward Island, Cadigan said.

Several major academic studies throughout the continent have established a link between the firefighting profession and cancer, Cadigan said. “The facts have been re-verified that firefighters are at a much higher risk of cancer than the general public,” he pointed out. Breathing in fumes is one common danger, and firefighters are equipped with breathing apparatuses and protective clothing.

“But a lot of these different chemicals absorb through the protective clothing and get absorbed through the skin, and thus into the bloodstream. A lot of these chemicals can be contacted after an incident through just handling of turnout gear and things of that nature.”

Another change to the workers’ comp system that Cadigan would like to see involves the limits of coverage. Currently, provincial workers receive 80 percent of their annual net earnings up to a ceiling of $60,000, he said. In any profession — not just firefighting — when a worker gets injured, “if you’re above that cap, you take an awful personal financial hit.”

The first half of Working Together is available online at http://www.gov.nl.ca/lra/workingtogether/pdf/SRC%202013%20Volume%20I%20Parts%201%20&%202.pdf. The WHSCC welcomes public feedback up to March 14; Newfoundland and Labrador residents can e-mail their responses to the report to workingtogether@gov.nl.ca.


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