Victoria – First responders, sheriffs and correctional officers will have greater access to services and compensation for mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can arise from traumatic workplace incidents, as a result of legislative amendments announced by Labour Minister Harry Bains.
The new mental-disorder presumption will apply to firefighters, police officers, paramedics, sheriffs and correctional officers.
“These changes are about fairness and support for workers who put their lives on the line, to protect British Columbians as part of their jobs,” Bains said. “First responders, sheriffs and both provincial and federal correctional officers who experience trauma on the job and are diagnosed with a mental disorder, should not have the added stress of having to prove that their disorder is work related, in order to receive support and compensation.”
The proposed amendments to the Workers Compensation Act will be introduced in the house today. If approved by the legislature, these amendments will add PTSD and other mental disorders to the list of conditions that are recognized as being presumptive conditions associated with specific types of jobs. The list includes conditions that are presumed to have been caused by the nature of the work, rather than having to be proven to be job related.
Additionally, the amendments will extend the existing cancer presumptions for municipal firefighters to include federal firefighters on military bases. It recognizes that firefighters from military bases may be exposed to dangerous substances, and frequently assist municipalities at off-base incidents.
The legislative changes are a first step toward providing more support to workers who are first on the scene at challenging, and sometimes dangerous and traumatic, situations. Government will consider over time expanding presumptions to other types of workers who experience traumatic events at work, as well as continuing to focus on overall workplace safety.
Workers Compensation Act – Presumptions
Currently, the Workers Compensation Act provides any worker with workers’ compensation for a mental disorder caused by their work, including PTSD.
There are two recognized situations of work-related mental disorders:
1) a reaction to one or more traumatic events at work; or
2) one primarily caused by significant work-related stressors, such as bullying or harassment.
In order for the claim to be accepted, medical and/or scientific evidence must be provided to establish that the condition arose out of their employment, in addition to a diagnosis by a psychiatrist or psychologist.
A presumption under the act provides that, if a worker has been employed in certain occupations and develops a disease or disorder that is recognized as being associated with that occupation, then the condition is presumed to have been due to the nature of their work, unless the contrary is proved. With a presumptive condition, there is no longer a need to prove that a claimant’s disease or disorder is work related.
The proposed legislative amendments will establish a new mental disorder presumption when the condition is a reaction to traumatic events at work. It will apply specifically to first responders: firefighters, police, paramedics, sheriffs and correctional officers.
Currently, seven other Canadian jurisdictions – Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Yukon – have legislation around PTSD/mental disorder presumptions for workers’ compensation.
The amendments will expand existing cancer presumptions to federal firefighters employed on military bases. Federal firefighters currently qualify for the heart disease and injury presumptions, but the cancer presumptions have been limited to local government firefighters.
Municipal fire departments combat structural fires that potentially expose them to more carcinogens than other firefighters, such as those dealing with forest fires. This change recognizes that firefighters from military bases may also be exposed to dangerous substances during structural fires, and frequently assist municipalities at off-base incidents.