Home Workplace News Ontario proposes enhanced WSIB coverage for firefighters, reducing eligibility requirements for cancer, heart injuries and PTSD

Ontario proposes enhanced WSIB coverage for firefighters, reducing eligibility requirements for cancer, heart injuries and PTSD

by HR Law Canada

The Ontario government has announced plans to introduce legislation that, if passed, would bring significant enhancements to the benefits and protections afforded to both wildland and municipal firefighters under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). This proposed legislation aims to align the coverage for wildland firefighters with that of their municipal counterparts, covering cancers, heart injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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

The proposed changes include lowering the required duration of service for firefighters to qualify for compensation for primary-site skin cancer from 15 years to 10 years. This adjustment would position Ontario as having the shortest service duration requirement in the country for such coverage.

Recent scientific studies highlight the increased risk of skin cancer among firefighters due to exposure to carcinogens and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in fireground dust. The Ontario government’s initiative also builds upon previous enhancements made under the Working for Workers acts, extending WSIB compensation for thyroid and pancreatic cancers diagnosed in firefighters.

These legislative changes are set to be the latest in a series of reforms under the Working for Workers acts, aimed at better safeguarding the health and financial stability of Ontario’s emergency responders.

Greg Horton, President of the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association, praised the government’s actions, saying, “Studies have shown that firefighters have a 21 per cent higher risk of melanoma… The current latency period is 15 years. In Ontario, firefighters are developing serious melanomas earlier, making them ineligible for compensation under the current system.”

This legislation is part of a broader government effort to acknowledge and address the unique risks associated with firefighting, including various types of cancers and heart injuries, as supported by recent classifications by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Approximately five million workers and 325,000 employers are covered by the WSIB, with over 1,000 individuals serving as wildland firefighters or investigators during the 2023 season. This workforce tackled 741 wildland fires, which collectively scorched 440,000 hectares.

As Ontario prepares to unveil more measures to protect and support its workers, the dedication to improving the lives of those who serve on the front lines remains a government priority, aiming to ensure that the province remains a safe and supportive place for all residents and workers.

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