OHS Canada Magazine

Ontario expanding WSIB protections for firefighters, including skin cancer, to protect ‘front line heroes’

Avatar photo

April 29, 2024
By OHS Canada

Health & Safety

Image: Anastasia/Adobe Stock

Ontario is planning to ensure wildland firefighters and investigators have the same presumptive workers’ compensation coverage for cancers, heart injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that municipal firefighters do.

The province is also proposing to expand presumptive coverage to firefighters and fire investigators for skin cancer and lower the service time required for firefighters to receive compensation from 15 to 10 years, bringing Ontario to the lowest required duration of service in the country. With presumptive coverage, certain cancers, heart injuries, and PTSD diagnoses are presumed to be work-related, helping ensure quicker and easier access to WSIB benefits, it said.

“In every corner of our province, firefighters, fire investigators, and volunteers put their lives on the line to keep our families and communities safe. These frontline heroes deserve a government that values their service and sacrifice – they have earned stronger, more expansive coverage,” said David Piccini, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development.

The government is proposing changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA), which would reduce the duration of employment requirement for entitlement to presumptive coverage for primary-site skin cancer from 15 years to 10, making it faster and easier for firefighters to access benefits. Growing scientific evidence shows that firefighters, including wildland firefighters, are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer because of their exposure to carcinogens and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in fireground dust, it said.

Greg Horton, president of the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association, said that studies have show that firefighters have a 21 per cent higher risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, even though it represents only one per cent of all skin cancers.


“They also have a higher risk of other types of skin cancers. The current latency period is 15 years. In Ontario, firefighters are developing serious melanomas earlier, making them ineligible for compensation under the current system,” said Horton. “We thank Ontario’s government for recognizing that the legislation requires updating and amending the latency period to 10 years thus ensuring fairer treatment for firefighters and their families who face health issues due to their service.”

Approximately five million workers and 325,000 employers are covered by the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

Over 1,000 people worked as wildland fire and wildland fire investigators during the 2023 wildland fire season.

There were 741 Ontario wildland fires during the 2023 season that burned 440,000 hectares.

Historically the scientific community had not identified a causal link between forest firefighting and occupational cancers, until a ground-breaking July 2022 publication by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which established that wildland firefighting is carcinogenic.


Stories continue below

Print this page

Related Stories