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April 25, 2013
Michigan bill could extend workers' compensation to firefighters with cancer


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A proposed bill in Michigan, Senate Bill 211, could extend workers’ compensation benefits to firefighters who develop certain types of cancer while on the job.

According to Mark Docherty, president of the Michigan Professional Firefighters Union, firefighters are exposed to carcinogens at almost every jobsite and typically can’t test for harmful chemicals before rushing into a burning building. A 2006 study at the University of Cincinnati found that firefighters do, in fact, face a higher risk for certain types of cancer, including testicular cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, and multiple myeloma. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has also launched a multiyear study on the subject, expected to be completed by 2014.

Opponents of the law, including the insurance industry, object because the causes of cancer are often difficult to pinpoint. Some also argue that such a provision could drive up the costs of workers’ compensation premiums in municipal fire departments. In Pennsylvania, a large number of claims made since a similar law took effect there has led to some insurance companies dropping workers’ compensation coverage for volunteer firefighters.

More than 30 states currently have similar laws in place. In Michigan, this subject has been addressed before: 1998 legislation similar to the current bill was vetoed by then-Governor John Engler.

If adopted, the bill would:

  • Provide workers’ compensation benefits to full-time firefighters with at least 5 years on the job who are diagnosed with the following 10 types of cancer:
    • Respiratory tract,
    • Bladder,
    • Skin,
    • Brain,
    • Kidney,
    • Blood,
    • Testicular,
    • Prostate,
    • Thyroid, and
    • Lymphatic.
  • Exclude these benefits from workers who regularly used tobacco products within 10 years of developing the disease if tobacco use was clearly a contributing factor.
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