Newfoundland firefighters gain momentum in effort to have cancers deemed a job hazard

Gary
Gary Kean
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Geoff Sparkes and his fellow firefighters are glad to see another step taken towards recognizing certain forms of cancer as a hazard of their careers.

Most jurisdictions in Canada already have legislation with a presumptive clause about specific cancers being prevalent enough in firefighters to trigger workers’ compensation.

In fact, all provinces, with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Prince Edward Island have presumptive clauses for firefighters.

The list includes cancers such as bladder, kidney and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, among others.

Recently the Statutory Review Committee on Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation issued a report on ways to improve the workers’ compensation system in Newfoundland and Labrador. Among its recommendations was that the provincial government enact legislation concerning presumptive cancers for career firefighters — those employed and paid by municipalities.

The effort to have this legislation brought into effect has been spearheaded by the St. John’s Firefighters Association, but is one that has been supported by the union representing the Corner Brook Fire Department’s members as well.

Sparkes is president of Local 1222 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. He said there is plenty of information and statistics that show long-term exposure to the hazards of fighting fires can cause occupational diseases such as cancer and even heart disease.

The studies, he noted, have shown firefighting can pose a greater risk for certain types of cancer and can lead to lower life expectancies than other careers.

“It’s positive news for us,” Sparkes said. “Hopefully, now it will be taken to government. The research has been there for years and that’s why almost all other jurisdictions in Canada have it.”

The report also recommends that municipalities that employ career firefighters should establish a separate, sustainable fund to compensate any of its firefighters who come down with a disease believed to be caused by their job.

Mike Dolter, the City of Corner Brook’s chief administrative officer, said the city will be looking into what is being down elsewhere in case the recommendation is followed through on by the provincial government and becomes the law of the land.

“The model is already out there,” said Dolter. “The expectation any municipality would have would be that we are following similar legislation elsewhere in Canada.”

The advantage of being late to the game, added Dolter, would be that other jurisdictions would have hopefully worked out the potential bugs in their legislation and Newfoundland and Labrador would have the best statute possible to start from.

“At the end of the day, we will meet the requirements the province puts in place, as we do right now with other workers’ compensation regulations,” said Dolter.

Twitter: WS_GaryKean

Organizations: Statutory Review Committee on Workplace Health, Firefighters Association, Corner Brook Fire Department International Association of Fire Fighters

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Quebec Prince Edward Island Corner Brook

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