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Workers' compensation extended to firefighters' cancer

Connecticut workers' compensation may not always extend to an occupational disease or workplace accident. Connecticut legislators addressed one gap in coverage when they recently approved legislation extending workers' compensation benefits to firefighters who were diagnosed with certain forms of cancer.

The state Senate approved the bill in a 35 to 1 vote on April 26. Earlier this month, the House unanimously passed the measure. Governor Dan Malloy still has to sign the bill.

A similar bill was defeated in the last session. A provision extending benefits to police suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder was omitted from the approved bill to help assure passage.

Firefighters will be eligible for additional benefits beginning in 2019. Current and former state, municipal or volunteer firefighters who have cancers resulting from exposure to heat, radiation or a known carcinogen determined by federal health agencies could seek benefits.

Firefighters are often exposed to deadly toxic containments that are generated by a fire such as asbestos, combustion byproducts such as benzene and formaldehyde and materials contained in older structures. These toxins can cause cancer, which is usually not considered as a work-related disease or injury.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded in a 2013 study that firefighters are more likely to suffer certain types of cancer than the general population. First responders in the NIOSH study were twice as likely to suffer mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos than the general population.

Benefits under this extension will be financed through a 1-cent diversion from the Enhanced 911 Telecommunications Fund for an account to be created in February 2017. A five-member subcommittee of the Connecticut Firefighters Association will oversee the account and review each claim, determine eligibility and set the weekly compensation amount for each claimant.

Eligibility for compensation for a workplace accident injury or disease may be a formidable and complicated task. Legal representation can help assure that injured workers can fully exercise their right to compensation for lost wages and medical benefits.

Source: Danberry NewsTmes, "Connecticut legislators extend workers compensation to firefighters with cancer," By Nelson Oliveira, April 29, 2016

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