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Firefighter Occupational Diseases

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Firefighter Occupational Diseases

Firefighters deserve compensation for fire-related illnesses and the Ontario government is working to ensure they get the help they need.

An amendment to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) received Royal Assent on May 4, 2007 allowing the government to make regulations affecting Ontario's full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters, fire investigators and forest firefighters.

Previously, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) had internal policies for dealing with some types of occupational diseases for firefighters, but generally assessed each firefighter claim on a case-by-case basis to determine if the disease was work-related or possibly caused by other factors not related to a worker's job.

Some Canadian jurisdictions have presumptive legislation to address specific health concerns of firefighters. This legislation now allows Ontario to do the same through regulations under the WSIA.

What is presumptive legislation?

Presumptive legislation allows the government to identify, through regulations, specific diseases or heart injuries of firefighters thatwouldbe presumed to be work-related for the purpose of workers' compensation, unless the contrary is shown. The WSIB would presume the disease or heart injury to be work-related unless it could be demonstrated that it was caused by other factors, such as non-work-related exposure or hereditary factors.

Presumptive legislation has been enacted in other Canadian jurisdictions, including Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. Many American states also have some kind of presumptive legislation for firefighters. More information is available in a report prepared by Parliamentary Assistant Mario Racco on the Ministry of Labour website at http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/reports/firefighters/review.html.

What is Ontario's approach?

Ontario has taken a unique approach through legislation that allows specific diseases or heart injuries to be identified in regulations under the WSIA, as opposed to being encoded in the legislation.

This will allow the list of diseases presumed to be work-related to be reviewed and updated, based on emerging medical information and input from fire sector stakeholders.

In establishing this legislative framework, the government took into consideration a combination of scientific and consultative information, including:

  • Parliamentary Assistant Mario Racco's report on the Treatment of Firefighter Cancer Claims by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, which included information provided by fire sector stakeholders
  • Several studies and medical journals that support a link between firefighters and various cancers
  • The rate of acceptance by the WSIB of firefighter cancer claims
  • A review of how other jurisdictions have dealt with presumtive legislation.

What is unique about this legislation?

This legislation is one of the most comprehensive of its kind in Canada.

  • More firefighters will be able to be covered by regulations. Unlike other jurisdictions that cover primarily full-time firefighters, this legislation allows for the inclusion of part-time and volunteer firefighters, fire investigators and forest firefighters. The government will quickly commence consultation to determine their scope of coverage
  • Through regulation, eight types of cancer will be identified as presumed to be work-related, provided the firefighter has a minimum number of years service. This, unlike some other jurisdictions, could be relatively easily expanded through a regulation if medical information emerges to support it
  • Through a regulation, heart injuries would be presumed to be work-related if they occur within 24 hours of a firefighter attending a fire
  • These changes apply to heart injuries sustained or diseases diagnosed on or after January 1, 1960. Claims already decided on by the WSIB or the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal can be re-opened at the request of the claimant.

What diseases does the government intend to regulate?

It is the government's intent to include the following Illnesses by regulation that will apply to full-time, part time and volunteer firefighters and fire investigators:

Cancer/Illness
Brain cancer
Bladder cancer
Kidney cancer
Colorectal cancer
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Leukemia
Ureter cancer
Esophageal cancer
Heart injury

The government intends to regulate these illnesses for full-time firefighters with the following conditions:

Cancer/Illness Criteria - Years of Service
Brain cancer 10 years
Bladder cancer 15 years
Kidney cancer 20 years
Colorectal cancer 10 years (diagnosed prior to 61st birthday)
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma 20 years
Leukemia 15 years
Ureter cancer 15 years
Esophageal cancer 25 years
Heart injury Within 24 hours of fighting a fire

Due to their unique nature, it is the government's intent to initiate a consultation to determine the criteria that would apply to part-time and volunteer firefighters and fire investigators.

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