Career firefighters who suffer an injury arising out of or during the performance of an authorised activity in or outside Victoria are ‘workers’ and therefore entitled to WorkCover compensation under the Accident Compensation Act 1985 (Vic) or Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (Vic). These claims are administered by WorkSafe.
Volunteer firefighters and Country Fire Authority volunteer auxiliary workers are also entitled to compensation where a personal injury has been suffered in the following circumstances:
- by a casual fire-fighter, by accident arising out of or in the course of fire-fighting at any fire in or outside Victoria with a Victorian brigade or group of brigades; or
- by a volunteer auxiliary worker, by accident arising out of or in the course of the performance of an authorized activity in or outside Victoria—
Claims by volunteer casual firefighters and auxiliary workers are administered by the Country Fire Authority in accordance with the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) and the Country Fire Authority Regulations 2014 (Vic).
In the unfortunate circumstances, where a career firefighter dies due to their injuries, the following compensation may be available:
- Reasonable medical and like services;
- Burial or cremation costs;
- Family counselling ;
- Reasonable travel or accommodation expenses occurred by family members may be covered where:
- Death results from the injury
- A burial service or cremation service is held in respect of the worker
- The service is held at least 100KM from the normal residence of the worker’s family members and
- The travelling or accommodation expenses are incurred within Australia
- Lump sum dependency payment; and
- Weekly pension for dependents.
In the unfortunate circumstances, where a volunteer firefighter or auxiliary worker dies due to their injuries, the following compensation may be available:
- reasonable costs of the medical, hospital, nursing, personal and household, rehabilitation and ambulance services received by a member because of the personal injury; and
- the reasonable costs incurred of family counselling services provided to the family members and dependants of the deceased member by a medical practitioner or registered psychologist and the reasonable costs of burial or cremation of the member.
Statutory compensation is 'no fault' compensation, meaning the career or volunteer firefighter or auxiliary worker can obtain compensation without proving their injury was due to the fault of another person or organisation. In circumstances where a career or volunteer firefighter or auxiliary worker suffered injury or died due to the negligence of another party, they may be entitled to lump sum compensation in the form of damages.
Firefighters and Cancer Risk
Unfortunately, firefighters are susceptible to developing several cancers due to the nature of their work; increasing their exposure to carcinogenic substances.
In 2019 the Victorian Labour Government followed other States and introduced the Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2019 into Parliament. Victoria is the second last state to introduce such legislation. This Bill received Royal Assent on 2 July 2019 and is now law, providing presumptive rights to career and volunteer firefighters. This means that they will be automatically entitled to WorkCover compensation under the presumption that their cancer was caused by their service, provided they have been diagnosed from 1 June 2016 with one of the 12 listed cancers in the table below and had served in operational roles for the corresponding prescribed minimum number of years for that specific cancer.
|Primary site brain cancer||5|
|Primary site bladder cancer||15|
|Primary site kidney cancer||15|
|Primary non-Hodgkins Lymphoma||15|
|Primary site breast cancer||10|
|Primary site testicular cancer||10|
|Primary site prostate cancer||15|
|Primary site ureter cancer||15|
|Primary site colorectal cancer||15|
|Primary site oesophageal cancer||25|
The Scheme is limited to where a diagnosis occurs during the course of a firefighter's service or within 10 years of them ceasing to serve as a firefighter. There is also an exception to the prescribed minimum number of years where the firefighter attended an exceptional exposure event. Similarly, to pro-claimed diseases, this presumption though can be rebutted by WorkSafe or the Country Fire Authority if those authorities can prove that the cancer was not caused by the firefighter's service as a firefighter.
The scheme is a WorkSafe Scheme and covers all career fighters employed by Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Country Fire Authority and Fire Rescue Victoria as well as CFA volunteers. The Government will also be introducing an ex-gratio support fund for firefighters (and the families of deceased firefighters) who miss out on compensation under the presumptive rights scheme due to not meeting the timing requirements.
Previously, firefighters who had been diagnosed with cancer could have claimed compensation via WorkSafe if they were a career firefighter or via the Country Fire Authority if a volunteer. They had to however prove that the nature of their work significantly increased the risk of them developing the cancer or they have suffered a recurrence, deterioration, aggravation, acceleration or exacerbation of a pre-existing cancer. In other words, there were no presumptive rights to compensation. These avenues are still available to those career and volunteer fighters who are not covered by the Presumptive Rights Act.
If you, or someone you know, is currently or has previously worked or volunteered as a firefighter (or auxiliary volunteer) where they may have been exposed to a hazardous substances, it is recommended you consult a general practitioner or specialist to determine if you have any conditions or diseases.
Zaparas Lawyers has a team of lawyers who specialise in helping people submit legal claims related to illness and disease caused by an occupation, and help to maximise their entitlements under the WorkCover system. If you or someone you know is at risk of developing and/or has been diagnosed with an occupational disease, contact Zaparas Lawyers now for an obligation free discussion about your potential legal entitlements.