As one of the three emergency services groups that risks their lives everyday, you'd expect the Australian fire department to have access to a high level of healthcare and medical assistance. However, NSW firefighters recently won changes to the current legislation, as they didn't believe they were getting the treatment they deserved.
The science behind the smoke
Every day, firemen are exposed to significant hazards on the job, including serious health risks. They face severe levels of heat and gas inhalation – both of which are unusual for any other profession. Carbon monoxide is one of the main gases present when a fire is burning, and one that puts firefighters at a greater risk of cancer than most other working professionals.
While many think that a firefighters' uniform protects them from all carcinogens, their personal protective gear still needs to breathe in order to prevent metabolic build up. So, while precautions are made to reduce exposure, 100 per cent protection cannot be maintained, thus increasing the risk of occupational cancers.
Because firefighters are being diagnosed with cancers on-the-job, they should be entitled to receive adequate medical assistance and compensation for their work-related illness. However, up until recently, legislation prevented this.
What was the previous legislation?
Under the recently amended Workers' Compensation legislation, firefighters in NSW found it extremely hard to claim compensation or receive medical benefits for work-related diseases such as occupational cancers. This was because they had to prove which specific carcinogens and which particular fires they were exposed to – something that proved extremely difficult.
Many firefighters unable to prove this were left to pay for medical expenses themselves and take unpaid leave.
Over the last seven years, many Australian states adopted better legal protection for firefighters. This is known as presumptive legislation. However, up until recently this excluded NSW.
The amended legislation
In the last few weeks however, the NSW Government has decided to amend its current Workers Compensation legislation to reverse onus of proof for NSW firefighters who are diagnosed with certain cancers. This means that from now onwards, any firefighter diagnosed with one of 12 prescribed cancers will be entitled to the presumption, and the burden of proof is eliminated.
Have you been exposed to dangerous working conditions that have resulted in an accident that wasn't your fault? You may be entitled to compensation. Get in touch with the team at Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers to see what we can do for you.