VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – Changes are in the works to quickly compensate emergency workers recovering from job-related mental trauma.
Services already provided under the Workers Compensation Act are being expanded, so firefighters, paramedics, police officers, sheriffs and corrections officers no longer have to prove their illness is caused by their work.
Cameron Eby, the President of the Paramedics of BC, says that’s significant.
“Currently, they have to file a claim with WorkSafe [BC] that demonstrate that they suffered that injury because of their work. It can sometimes be very difficult to do because it’s often not just a single event that causes these injuries.”
Eby adds the mental disorder presumption still excludes certain front-line workers. “Emergency call-takers and dispatchers. They’re often exposed too much of the same environments that our paramedics are, so we’re looking forward to working with government in the coming months to have them included and make sure that they have the supports they need.”
Labour Minister Harry Bains says he’s already examining how to expand Bill 9 legislation to include other workers in high-risk occupations. However, BC Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger became emotional when she talked about the Workers Compensation Act needing to be updated to presume certain illnesses are job-related.
“You think of the terrible, tragic bus accident. You know, these are things that happen and when these terrible tragedies happen, workers who experience them should have access to benefits and that right should be extended to all workers who experience trauma on the job.”
Lanzinger adds she’s pleased BC is now one of eight provinces offering this type of compensation.
“It is frustrating that we took that long time to get there, but it’s great that we have a new government now and they have corrected that after many, many years of waiting for it and no action by the previous government. You know, there’s a review of the WCB, but the government said this piece of it can’t wait and we’re very happy that they made that decision.”
Vancouver Fire Captain Jonathan Gormick is also welcoming this legislation. “This is huge for firefighters and all first responders. It’s not a case of if you might get a mental injury or mental illness. It’s more like a chance of when and now the barriers have been broken down and we’re able to get access to help much easier.”
He adds, at some point in their career, all first responders suffer some kind of mental trauma. “And that’s not to say they’ll all progress to something like PTSD, but it’s important that we have the tools in place that we can get access to help right away and prevent that from progressing, help us re-integrate into the workplace, be better for our families and everyone around us.”
Meanwhile, the federal government has created a new Memorial Grant Program honouring first responders who die in the line of duty.
Their loved ones will receive a one-time, tax-free payment of $300,000.
The program is expected to cost around $23 million a year.