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Ohio Senate Passes Law to Give Firefighters Workers Compensation Coverage for Cancer

Last week, we wrote about pending legislation here in Ohio that would allow firefighters diagnosed with some forms of cancer to receive workers' compensation (WC) benefits. On Wednesday, April 13, the Ohio Senate voted 32-1 to pass that legislation—specifically, Senate Bill 27. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where it will be assigned to a committee for review.

Senate Bill 27 would create a legal presumption of increased risk which then would allow firefighters to access benefits through the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation and Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund.

The current law here in Ohio allows firefighters who contract occupational cancers to receive WC benefits only if they can prove the precise exposures that caused their illnesses. Given the multitude of exposures firefighters receive, the delay in detection that normally occurs and the latency periods of cancer, this challenge proves practically impossible for firefighters.

The bill has been sponsored by State Sen. Tom Patton of Strongsville. This is his fourth attempt to get it through the General Assembly.

Ohio has been behind the curve on this issue. More than 30 states have already enacted laws that recognize a presumption that when firefighters get cancer, it is job related. Similar legislation is pending in another six states.

"Ohio's firefighters are called to action every day to assist to the public in times of distress, performing some of the most dangerous jobs in our state,” Patton said in a statement released after the Senate vote. “Today is our opportunity to return the favor by recognizing the risks associated with this noble profession and providing them with the benefits they deserve."

About 68 percent of firefighters get cancer, which is three times the rate of the general population, according to a 2013 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Results from the study, while not proving a direct link, found that about 68 percent of firefighters get cancer, compared to 22 percent of the general public, regardless of race or gender. The study also found that firefighters experienced more cancer deaths and cancer cases than was initially expected, and cancers of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems accounted mostly for the higher rates of cancer seen in the study population.

Some cancers, such as bladder and prostate cancer, also occurred at a higher-than-expected rate among younger fighters, according to the study. Researchers concluded that the higher rates they found suggest that firefighters are more likely to develop those particular types of cancers.

Additionally, firefighters in the study were found to have had a rate of mesothelioma two times greater than the rate in the general U.S. population. This study was the first study to identify an excess of mesothelioma in U.S. firefighters. Researchers stated that it was likely that the findings were associated with exposure to asbestos, a known cause of mesothelioma.

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Most experts believe that cancer arises from exposure to potentially hazardous substances. For firefighters, that means exposure to such hazards potentially occurs each time they enter a burning building. Depending on the fire, exposure can be prolonged. Those hazardous materials can also remain on firefighter gear even after the fire is put out.

The attorneys at Nager, Romaine & Schneiberg Co., L.P.A. strongly support SB 27 and State Sen. Patton’s efforts to facilitate WC coverage for firefighters who incur cancer. We will continue to actively monitor SB 27, as well as all workers’ compensation legislation that affects Ohio consumers and businesses. In the event you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer as a result of on-the-job firefighting, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact the Ohio workers compensation lawyers at NRS Injury Law by filling out our No-Risk Consultation form, or call (855) GOT-HURT and speak with one of our trained staff members.

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