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B.C. further expands cancer coverage for firefighters

By Richmond Sentinel

Published 12:30 PST, Mon November 14, 2022

Firefighters will now have easier access to workers' compensation benefits and support services in recognition of their higher risk of developing work-related cancers.

"Firefighters are there for us when we are at our most vulnerable, and we need to be there for them when they need us," said Premier John Horgan. "Their job places them in risk of exposure to toxic materials. If they get sick or hurt on the job, they deserve to have every support we can provide."

The province is amending the Firefighters' Occupational Disease Regulation under the Workers Compensation Act (WCA) by adding two cancers—pancreatic and thyroid—to the existing list of cancers and heart diseases that firefighters are at increased risk of developing.

"Despite the safety equipment, firefighters are still exposed to dangerous substances from burning materials," said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour. "Over time, exposure can lead to serious, sometimes deadly, illnesses where prompt treatment is critical. I am proud to support these brave workers who selflessly put their health and lives on the line to keep British Columbians safe."

If a firefighter develops one of the listed cancers after a certain period of employment, it is presumed that the cancer arose from their employment. The firefighter will be eligible for workers' compensation benefits without having to prove the cancer is work-related.

"Recognizing the health challenges that firefighters face is extremely important to our membership as they put their lives on the line every day in communities across this province," said Gord Ditchburn, president of the BC Professional Fire Fighters' Association. "I am very grateful to this government for listening to us, expanding the list of work-related cancers, and better supporting B.C.'s firefighters."

These improvements support government's priority to ensure workers who become ill or injured on the job face fewer barriers to accessing workers' compensation benefits and resources.

Professional firefighters and approximately 10,000 volunteer firefighters in B.C. have access to workers' compensation related to cancer and other occupational diseases. For the occupational disease presumptions to apply, a firefighter must have worked the minimum amount of time specified in the regulation for each cancer.

B.C. has recognized occupational diseases for firefighters since 2005, when the Firefighters' Occupational Disease Regulation was established. Additional types of occupational diseases for firefighters have since been added to the act and regulation. Cervical, ovarian, and penile cancers were recently added to the regulation in April 2022. B.C. recognizes 18 cancers as occupational diseases for firefighters. 

Changes to the act in 2018 included firefighting as an eligible occupation in the new presumption for mental-health disorders.

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