Know your rights: Firefighter occupational diseases (cancers) and workers’ compensation - Public Service Association

Know your rights: Firefighter occupational diseases (cancers) and workers’ compensation

Firefighting - Aug 2020 (PDF version)

Anyone employed in a firefighting role may be entitled to claim workers’ compensation to cover the treatment of specified diseases (all cancers), as long as their employment has been for a qualifying period of time.

The qualifying period ranges from as little as five years for leukaemia. This claim can be made without the claimant proving a link between the cancer and their employment, as the Workers Compensation Act 1987 deems that firefighting is a contributing factor to contracting the disease. This can come as a huge relief for staff who have previously been expected to meet significant out-of-pocket expenses associated with their treatment.

Until the introduction of the Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment (Firefighters) Bill 2018, firefighters had experienced significant delays and medico-legal obstacles in accessing workers’ compensation for common cancers from firefighting and proving liability. This problem was similar to the many workers who attempt to claim workers’ compensation for workplace toxin exposure, especially when there are significant background environmental levels of the causal toxins in the community.

The WHO recognises that fire combustion has multiple toxic outputs that, when combined with firefighters’ higher levels of exposure, have possible and probable carcinogenic effects.

The new legislation is “presumptive” in that, if you have worked as a firefighter for the qualifying period, this will be presumed to have been the major cause for the cancer. The following is the list of cancers that can be claimed.


Disease Qualifying service period
Primary site brain cancer 5 years
Primary leukaemia   5 years
Primary site breast cancer  10 years
Primary site testicular cancer   10 years
Primary site bladder cancer 15 years
Primary site kidney cancer  15 years
Primary non-Hodgkin lymphoma 15 years
Multiple myeloma 15 years
Primary site prostate cancer 15 years
Primary site ureter cancer 15 years
Primary site colorectal cancer 15 years
Primary site oesophageal cancer  25 years

Are you a voluntary firefighter?

If you are also a voluntary firefighter, this time will be counted for the qualifying period unless the time was served at the same time as being a paid firefighter. For example, one year doing both voluntary and paid firefighter work is still one year.

What about safety?

The workers’ compensation system will support you for medical and income support within the limitations of the legislation. It will not take the cancer away or the effects it has on you and your family and friends. Prevention is the key so now is a particularly important time to get involved in upcoming elections for Health and Safety Representatives to have some influence over your health and safety at work.

Could you or someone you know have a workplace firefighter cancer?

Contact the PSA on 1300 772 679 and we will refer you to our specialist workers ‘compensation lawyers at McNally Jones Staff. Whilst the legislation is presumptive, there is still the need to get appropriate expert medico-legal evidence which should be initiated through a supportive legal advocate.

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