Senate Bill 451Contact: Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs Agency: Licensing and Regulatory Affairs
Topic: Worker's Compensation for Fire Fighters
Sponsor: Senator Rogers
Committee: Human Resources, Labor, Senior Citizens, and Veterans Affairs
Position: The Department took no position on a similar bill in the 1997-98 session.
Background: There has been some evidence to suggest that as a result of fighting both residential and industrial fires, fire fighters are at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancers then other professions. At the present, the fire fighter's definition of "personal injury" in the workplace does not include respiratory tract, bladder, skin, brain, kidney, blood, and lymphatic cancers. Since it appears that there may be a causal relationship between a fire fighter's occupation and the risk of some types of cancer, this bill has been drafted to extend workman's compensation benefits to those fire fighter's who are not covered under a disability pension.
This bill was introduced in the last legislative session as Senate Bill 789. Although passed by both houses, Governor Engler opted not to sign the bill into law. On August 5, 1998, he requested that the Michigan Environmental Science Board conduct a study to measure the level of risk posed to fire fighters as a result of their occupation. The results of this study have not yet been completed.
Description of the Bill: This bill would amend the definition of "personal injury" for fully paid fire fighters, employed more then 24 months, to include all respiratory tract, bladder, skin, brain, kidney, blood, and lymphatic cancers. Unless there is convincing evidence to the contrary, these conditions will be deemed to have arisen during the course of employment. An individual who has been a consistent smoker within the five years preceding the filing of the claim is not subject to this presumption. The bill would also mandate a study to be completed by the bureau in regards to cancer presumption and volunteer fire fighters. This study would have to be finished by June 30, 2000.
Pros: Firefighters are at a higher risk of being exposed to cancer causing substances as a direct result of their occupation. Protective equipment used by fire fighters, such as respirators, is not always effective. In addition, firefighters can be exposed to toxic substances after the fires have been put out and even when they are not fighting any fires. Because of these facts, many people believe that fire fighters should be eligible for worker compensation benefits , unless they are covered by a disability pension or are or have been, within the last five years, consistent smokers.
Cons: There is much ambiguity surrounding the definition of the term "consistent smoker". Does that refer to an individual who smokes a pack a day or more, or does it also include those we might call "social smokers"? Problems could also arise when dealing with the five year limit. Why five years? What would happen to someone who has been smoking within the last five years, but does not call themselves a "consistent smoker"? In order to be enforced properly these ambiguities would have to be remedied.
In addition, Governor Engler vetoed this bill last session on the basis that it would extend benefits to all firefighters, including those who were never exposed to a chemical fire or toxic substances. There must be some way to determine whether or not the condition is directly linked to occupational hazards. The causal relationship between cancer and exposure to pollutants can vary based on the individual and should be subject to proof on a case by case basis. A study is now being conducted to examine the relation between cancer and frequency of exposure. It could be suggested that this bill be held until the results of that study are in.
Supporters/Opponents: The bill is supported by all of the firefighters associations and councils. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill.
Fiscal Information: Due to the fact that the majority of individuals in fully paid fire departments elect to take disability pension as opposed to worker's compensation, it should not increase the number of workman's comp. cases significantly. There might be some impact on local government. By restricting coverage to individuals who have not smoked in the past five years, it is a possibility that premiums would be lowered. If premiums were reduced, worker compensation claim costs for fire departments would probably also be reduced.
Administrative Rules Impact: There would be no administrative rules impact.