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Law firm says new Government plan for firefighters with work-related cancers falls short

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Media Release

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Slater and Gordon has called on the Victorian Government to rethink its plan to introduce new panels to assess whether firefighters with certain cancers linked to their work can access protection under WorkCover.

The firm has urged the Government to instead focus on bringing in presumptive legislation that would bring protections for Victorian firefighters who develop occupational cancers into line with those given to their colleagues on the Commonwealth payroll.

Under the Commonwealth’s presumptive legislation, enacted in 2011, a federal firefighter who contracts one of 12 prescribed cancers is presumed to have contracted their cancer as a result of their employment, streamlining the claims process.

Slater and Gordon WorkCover lawyer Craig Sidebottom said it was unclear how the panels, announced this week, would provide any benefit to firefighters, who are regularly exposed to dangerous, cancer-causing chemicals.

“We believe the panels are an unnecessary measure. There is no substitute for presumptive legislation,” Mr Sidebottom said.

“It seems incongruous that a Federal firefighter working at Tullamarine airport is covered in the event they develop an occupational cancer whereas his MFB colleague a few kilometres down the road is not.”

Slater and Gordon represents a large number of Victorian career firefighters who have developed work-related cancers as well as dozens of volunteer firefighters who were exposed to dangerous chemicals at the CFA’s Fiskville training facility.

Mr Sidebottom said there was already too many claims involving cancer among firefighters being rejected by Worksafe and that the introduction of new panels would only serve to add a new layer of complexity and delay to the claims process for affected firefighters and their families.

“It is indisputable that firefighters are exposed to a disproportionate amount of chemicals, toxins, fumes, benzenes and carcinogens in the course of their employment,” Mr Sidebottom said.

“It surely must follow that this level of exposure to these known cancer-causing agents creates a higher risk of cancer.”

“Those who risk their lives protecting others deserve the community’s protection when they’re injured doing so.”