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Pending Law Would Give Firefighters Workers Compensation Coverage for Cancer

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 cancers, 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.

Despite the alarming rate of firefighter cancer, and results from the NIOSH study, firefighters find it hard to get worker's compensation (WC) benefits for their illnesses. Now, State Sen. Tom Patton of Strongsville is attempting to change state law to include the presumption that firefighters disabled as a result of cancer incurred the cancer while working, which would ease access to workers' compensation benefits. This is his fourth attempt to get the bill through the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 27 would make it easier for firefighters to access benefits from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation when they are diagnosed with cancer. The bill is currently pending in committees in both the Ohio House and Senate. Patton is optimistic that the bill will be voted out of committee to the Senate floor this spring so that it could be sent to the House before its summer recess.

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

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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 worker’s 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 comp 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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