Update: Supporting work to reduce firefighter occupational cancer risks

  Posted on 6th March 2020 by Nick Cottrell in UFBA blog, UFBA News

Update: Supporting work to reduce firefighter occupational cancer risks

Following the announcement last week about the new ACC tool to assess firefighters suffering with cancer, here is an update from Fire and Emergency NZ.

We commend FENZ for considering overarching preventative measures, and the current model will support nine firefighters currently experiencing cancer. These are important positive steps.

We’ll continue the conversation, including with government, until all firefighters get the equal support regardless of volunteer or career. We will also seek further information around the citeria and specifications under the ACC model and will keep you posted as this issue develops.

Supporting work to reduce firefighter occupational cancer risks

For more than 150 years, fire service organisations have been at the heart of New Zealand communities. Fire and Emergency now has around 14,000 people across 660 brigades, all committed to protecting others.

But while our team is protecting others, we need to protect them. We know firefighters have an increased risk of certain types of cancer due to their exposure to cancer-causing toxins (carcinogens). It is an issue fire services around the world are grappling with. We have been actively working across a range of initiatives to find solutions to further reduce the risk.

Ultimately, the aim must be reducing exposure (and therefore risk) as much as possible. That’s been a focus of much of our recent work including investment in new types of personal protective equipment and in building facilities such as exhaust extraction mechanisms, dirty-to-clean zones at stations, increased laundry capability and extra showers, as well as our people being aware of the risks and mitigations.

Our over-riding focus is on keeping all our people (no matter whether they are paid or volunteer) safe and as well as possible. We also continue to support any firefighters experiencing occupational cancer.

Recently, ACC announced a new tool for assessing operational firefighter cancer claims (https://www.acc.co.nz/newsroom/stories/new-tool-to-help-assess-firefighter-occupational-cancer-claims/). Some of our career firefighters who have experienced occupational cancer and had been waiting and hoping for ACC support, have now had claims accepted. This is a great outcome.

However, it’s onlyone step in the right direction. ACC’s current legislation allows cover for firefighter occupational cancer under the ‘work related gradual process injury’ provision. Due to the wording in the Act this excludes all volunteers including our volunteer firefighters.

We remain supportive of presumptive legislation for all firefighters, as exists in countries such as Australia, Canada and some states of the US. However, any legislative change is a matter for Parliament.

ACC’s recent move does mean that some of our fire fighters battling cancers are better off now. This is a great thing for them and their families and is in effect now.

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the regulator in these matters, is providing advice on how volunteers in an employment-like relationship can be provided similar cover to employees for accidents that occur while volunteering and we are following progress on this closely.

In the meantime, we continue with our Carcinogen Control Project which seeks to apply solutions to further reduce the risks from exposure to carcinogens for all our firefighters. The four main work streams in this project are to:

We also keep connected to the work of the range of unions and associations who advocate and support their members impacted by carcinogen exposure.

This issue is of vital importance to the health and wellbeing of our people now and in the future and we remain committed to supporting initiatives that improve outcomes for all firefighters.

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