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Ontario announces increase in firefighter cancer coverage

(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...

(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.

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5 Comments » for Ontario announces increase in firefighter cancer coverage
  1. Cliff Goldstein says:

    In the firefighter piece, you never mention the fact that the recent NIOSH study specifically found that there is NO RELATIONSHIP between firefighting and several of the new cancers added to the list, such as multiple myeloma. There is scant evidence that firefighters are at increased risk of cancer, and the relationships reported are typically weak and statistically insignificant. Even when an association is detected, it is important to note the distinction between causation and association. Firefighters may share socio-economic characteristics, such as increased smoking and alcohol consumption and poor diets, vocational histories, such as military experience, or other confounding factors that effect the statistics. Detection bias is also an issue because firefighters have frequent exams and are therefore more likely to have their cancers detected than the population generally. The decision to compensate firefighters for cancer is based on emotion and politics, not science. Quoting a firefighter or union rep as saying

  2. Peter Kennedy says:

    To Mr. Goldstein’s points, there is a proven causal relationship based on studies more extensive than that of NIOSH. It would seem he isn’t following his own advise listed further down his post re. scientific studies. The relationship is also substantiated by the fact that firefighters don’t share the socio-economic characteristics of increased smoking, increased alcohol consumption, poor diets, or other confounding and unmentioned factors, other than having to work shift work. Further, detection is not biased except in favour of the general public. Most firefighters don’t go to the doctor as often as the general public in keeping with their sense of being invulnerable. In addition, the fact that someone doesn’t know early that they have cancer doesn’t mean that the stats won’t be applied later when they do know or die from it if not treated. The number of cancers in the public is the same either way. Peter D. Kennedy…esq I guess.

  3. sharonthomas says:

    I agree. My husband was a volunteer fire fighter, and he died at just 59 from lung cancer. Also, Lou Ge rigs disease is another one that should be covered. I know two fire chiefs in the Niagara Region who died the horrible death.

  4. Bill TYroupe III says:

    What about the volunteers…they do the job and don’t get paid for it. Is that fair?

  5. Steve R says:

    I am sick of the over-the-top benefits these employees get. A first-class firefighter (more than three years of service) in Kitchener will make $97,901, and “recognition pay” boosts their base increases by 3% after 8 years, 6% after more than 17 years or nine per cent after more than 23 years, which is an insane wage for any line of work that doesn’t demand a doctoral education.
    While I respect that these employees do face some potential for serious physical harm, they absolutely do not “face dangerous situations every day” as Wynne would have us believe. The incidence of fire is at an all-time low and still declining due to better construction and fire-safety practices. Many of these employees are not called out once a month to an actual fire. In addition, they very often have side-jobs (since firefighters can know they work scheduled months in advance) and as far as I can see, spend a lot of their time fundraising and doing “good work” like raising money for Wynnne’s liberals.
    I am sick to death of the spending, and I do not hold firefighters in very high esteem. They are rewarded more than handsomely for their efforts — just compare their lot to that of the poor paramedics! I would gladly do a firefighter’s job and at a discounted rate, no less!

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