Why do fire fighters in Victoria need presumptive cancer legislation?

16 June

Victorian fire fighters have long been calling for presumptive cancer legislation.

Why exactly do they need it?

Because science has proven that career fire fighters face a significantly greater risk and incidence of certain types of cancers, as a result of exposures to toxins and carcinogens while fire fighting.

Internationally accepted research has shown there are more than 70,000 toxins and chemicals in the average house fire.

Fire fighters wear protective equipment that goes some way to decreasing the risk of exposure to carcinogens. But it does not entirely eliminate the risk, as the uniforms have to breathe and fire fighters absorb the toxins through their skin

Without this legislation, a fire fighter diagnosed with one of the specific cancers has to prove in which fire they were exposed to the carcinogens, and what precisely they were exposed to. Presumptive legislation recognises the wealth of scientific evidence that has shown the link between career fire fighting and the incidence of the listed cancers by reversing the onus to presume the specific cancer is an occupational illness, unless proven otherwise.

This means fire fighters diagnosed with the specific cancers who meet the required qualifying period of service can access their entitlements and get compensation, as they would for any other workplace injury or illness.

The Victorian Bill extends the presumption to protect volunteer firefighters. Like career fire fighters, volunteers have to demonstrate that they have served as an operational fire fighter for the relevant qualifying period for the particular cancer. The Victorian Government has adopted the Queensland model, under which volunteers can provide information to a specialist committee to show they have served for the relevant qualifying period. This protection was put in place as volunteers were concerned their records may not be complete.

The Victorian Bill also introduces a new provision which provides for the committee to give special consideration for exceptional exposures for fire fighters who do not meet the relevant qualifying period, but can demonstrate they have attended an exceptional event.

Victoria is way behind when it comes to this legislation. It has already been introduced to protect fire fighters in Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, as well as Aviation and Federal fire fighters in Canberra.

The Victorian Bill includes the same 12 cancers and qualifying periods as all other Australian presumptive legislation.

The proposed fire services reform needs to be passed together with presumptive cancer legislation - both are important for the health and safety of Victoria’s fire fighters.

Fast Facts

●      International and Australian Research shows that because of their work, career fire fighters have a significantly higher risk and incidence of specific cancers than the general public

●      Presumptive legislation reverses the onus of proof on the fire fighter in proving their cancer is work related

●      The Victorian Bill extends the presumption to volunteer fire fighters.