The Andrews Labor Government has funded a pilot program which is helping emergency services workers to access mental health treatment while awaiting a decision from WorkCover on a psychiatric claim. Whilst this is a fantastic initiative, the assistance does not yet extend to the full extent of services which are also promptly required by emergency services workers.
Recent news media around a compensation fund for firefighters who suffered injury in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City have shown the high incidence of cancer in firefighters. Closer to home, the recently passed Firefighters' Presumptive Rights and Fire Services Amendment Legislation (Reform) Bill 2019 is great news for firefighters suffering from cancers suffered as a result of their work or volunteering. WorkSafe Victoria has addressed the issue and access to compensation is facilitated through the WorkCover scheme.
Currently there is a list of proclaimed diseases, being diseases that if suffered by a worker in a specific occupation are deemed to be due to the nature of the employment.
The new legislation protects not only those employed as firefighters, but those in volunteering positions with the Country Fire Authority. The legislation will apply to those diagnosed with one of the 12 listed cancers after 1 June 2016 as long as they have met the qualifying periods.
The 12 cancers (with varying qualifying periods between five and twenty-five years) are as follows:
- Primary site brain cancer
- Primary site bladder cancer
- Primary site kidney cancer
- Primary non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
- Primary leukaemia
- Primary site breast cancer
- Primary site testicular cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Primary site prostate cancer
- Primary site ureter cancer
- Primary site colorectal cancer
- Primary site oesophageal cancer
In circumstances where a firefighter has not met the qualifying period, they may still be able to access compensation if they can show they have attended an exceptional exposure event .
It is important to note that whilst the presumption would be that the cancer is caused by the nature of the employment, a claim can be refused if the insurer can demonstrate that this is not the case.
In recognising the high risks involved in protecting people and property from fires throughout Victoria, this new legislation and an ability to access assistance through WorkCover, will be welcomed by both paid and volunteer firefighters.
If you are an emergency services worker and would like to discuss your entitlements following a workplace injury, contact a lawyer on (03) 9321 9988 and obtain free legal advice.