Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Amendment Bill 2022

Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Amendment Bill 2022

DR WOODRUFF (Franklin) – Mr President, the Greens will also support this bill.

I wanted to say a few words about the challenging conditions that come with fighting wildfires. It is becoming increasingly difficult to take the precautionary measures that firefighters must take to avoid exposure to carcinogens. Prevention is largely related to the specialized protective equipment and breathing apparatus worn by firefighters. These become more difficult to use on wildfires. There are people fighting home fires, and often there is the ability to have rotating equipment so that people spend less time exposed to radiant heat and life-threatening conditions.

In wildfires that is not always possible because conditions change very quickly and people are isolated. Bushfires in Tasmania and around the world are taking much longer to extinguish. Controlling them can be much more physically taxing because people often need to spend a lot of time controlling fires in incredibly high temperatures.

Under those conditions, firefighters may find it difficult to maintain their full personal protective equipment. If a person does, that has dangers because the full PPE and heavy clothing that people need to protect themselves from breathing in dangerous chemicals, as well as radiant heat that can kill people, means the human body is at risk of being cooked. , and this is a known high hazard for firefighters. Fire equipment does an extremely good job of stopping heat from coming in, but it also does the same thing in reverse and can stop heat from going out.

Firefighters are known to be at a much higher risk of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heart attacks, asthma, and of course cancer, which brings us to today’s bill. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, IARC, which is part of the World Health Organization, declared firefighting a carcinogenic profession in July this year. He escalated the firefighting profession from group 2b (possibly carcinogenic to humans) to group 1 (carcinogenic to humans). That’s a late statement from the WHO, which is not surprising, as it takes a long time for the science to filter down to that level. It is something on which science has settled quite a bit for a few years. Firefighters are known to be diagnosed with cancer at a rate of about four times the general population based on cancer and that’s according to a 2020 report from the University of Central Lancashire, commissioned by your local firefighters union.

In forest fires and preventive burning to some extent, people may be exposed to intense levels of particulates that are detrimental to human functioning. They are transmitted by smoke and can contain things like flame retardant gases from burning plastics and volatile organic compounds that are released from the burning of many items found in homes or pastures, from outdoor industrial activities, and from chemicals that are burning in the bush itself. They can include industrial solvents, paints, pesticides, herbicides, petroleum fuels, many chemical poisons that seep into the protective gear people wear. They penetrate masks and can cause immediate and longer-term respiratory problems and, in some people, cancer.

Unions and employees have long fought for cancers that are strongly linked to those exposures to be recognized as a suspected occupational hazard and I want to acknowledge the work of the many people around the world, firefighters, unions and people who have suffered those same workplaces. induced cancers and have had to go through the painful process of having their exposure in the workplace recognized as the cause or origin of their cancer.

Regular and to some extent unavoidable exposures to these carcinogens by firefighters were first recognized in Tasmanian legislation in 2013 for career and volunteer firefighters in the TFS and that added a list of 12 cancers that, if a person was diagnosed with one of them, it was presumed to have been as a result of work-related exposure and was not required to be proven so. The presumption of danger falls on the activities of the workplace and that means that the person no longer has to argue it, and that is a much more fair and humane approach and that pleases us all.

When I introduced the bill for the Greens in 2017 and Minister Archer added employees from Forestry Tasmania and Natural Resource Management, formerly DPIPWE, who are involved in fighting bushfires, they were recognized as the gap. It is clear that the inadvertent and inadvertent gap was that there was one remaining group, the Forest Fire Risk Unit, which I understand mainly comprises the NRE, Forestry Tasmania and TFS staff who are tasked with carrying out the preventive burns to reduce flammable vegetation and reduce threats. They remained unprotected as a result of the 2017 amendment and I spoke to staff and asked if they thought there was any chance of anyone remaining in Tasmania. I want to thank you for the information you gave me. They’re pretty sure this is the last law we’ll need to make sure everyone fighting a fire is covered.

We strongly support the bill, and we also support increased protections and resources for the very brave firefighters, paid and volunteer individuals, who put their lives at risk due to the nature of the work they do and also due to the increasing threat of labor from weather laden wildfires. The nature of wildfires and the nature of fighting them is changing rapidly. Climate warming is driving things like heat domes, which focus intense bubbles of heat over an area for days or weeks and can cause extreme, localized temperature rises never seen before in the region. This could be a rise of five or six degrees above the highest maximum on record in an area, and that sits for days in the area and makes fighting fires impossible and very dangerous. It is also creating violent fire-driven convective currents that manifest as towering pyrocumulus clouds that can result in terrifying firestorms. They have an intensity that creates and sustains its own wind system and creates enormous turbulence that can cause surface winds to change direction erratically, which is obviously a huge threat to people on the ground in these conditions. intense.

Humans have never seen these conditions except in the horrific firebombing of Dresden and other cities during World War II, when there was such an explosive amount of heat generated by bombing at one point. These are new conditions, and people are standing there, going out protecting us and doing this work for us. We owe them all the effort, resources, and support they need to do that dangerous job. Some of these firefighters’ spokespeople include the 33 former fire chiefs and emergency weather action leaders, who are very clear that we all have a responsibility to stop fueling the fires that increasingly threaten our communities and wild places now. firefighters. those who fight them. They have begged us and they are very clear that the first order of protection that firefighters need is to reduce the carbon emissions that we are putting into the atmosphere. Unless we stop feeding heat into the system, everything we do on the ground will be meaningless in a few years because of the way climate warming is accelerating so rapidly, much faster than we thought.

The WHO’s decision to classify the firefighting profession as carcinogenic to humans is obviously a call to all of us to do what we can to provide the critical measures firefighters need to protect their health. I want to ask the minister, based on what Mrs O’Byrne said, why have we not added in this bill the additional seven cancers that should be covered by presumptive firefighters legislation, to include thyroid, pancreas, skin, cervix, ovary, penile and lung cancers. They are the ones listed by the WHO International Agency Against Cancer. Obviously they are now internationally agreed, so why aren’t they in this legislation? These affect men and women, but because more and more women are becoming firefighters, and we want to encourage and support them, then we have to put measures in place to support them from the start.

Finally, firefighters must have a commitment from this government for long-term health screening and therapeutic blood donations, which is now an available technique to control a person’s exposure to a variety of dangerous toxins, including PFAS. Comprehensive health screening for all firefighters and the possibility of therapeutic blood donations is very important.

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