Firefighters compensated for cancer

Firefighters more likely to develop cancers of the brain, bladder and kidney
By David Brown
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/20/2003

I

n the past few months, two more provinces have changed workers’ compensation regulations to extend benefits to firefighters who develop cancer.

Nova Scotia and Alberta join Manitoba as the three provinces where any firefighter who gets cancer automatically receives workers’ compensation benefits.

Research has shown firefighters are more likely to develop cancers of the brain, bladder and kidney.

The legislation in Alberta states that for any firefighter who develops a primary brain cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, colon cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or leukemia, “the injury shall be presumed to be an occupational disease, the dominant cause of which is the employment as a firefighter, unless the contrary is proven.”

Alberta Human Resources and Employment Minister Clint Dunford originally resisted the change. “What I was opposed to was the presumptiveness,” he said. “It changed the onus of proof from the worker to organization and I think that is inappropriate.”

While worker health and safety advocates are pleased with the changes, they say workers in other occupations continue to face unnecessary cancer risks in the workplace.

The International Agency for Research in Cancer estimates that five to 15 per cent of cancers in men and one to five per cent of cancers in women can be related to workplace exposure to carcinogens.

The difficulty in proving the connection between work and cancer, however, makes it unlikely that other occupations will soon see similar changes.

“The major problem we have is that there is little or no effort to collect any kind of data that would give us any indication of the role occupation plays in cancer causality,” said James Brophy, an occupational cancer expert with the University of Windsor and the Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario workers.

He said too much time is spent looking for a cancer cure and not enough is being done to reduce the risks workers face.

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