Moving to protect employees who are injured at work, legislation to ensure public safety workers who suffer a disability or death due to their often extreme work requirements are covered by workers’ compensation was signed into law Monday by Governor Phil Murphy.
The law (A-1741), known as the “Thomas P. Canzanella Twenty First Century First Responders Protection Act,” is named after the late Thomas P. Canzanella, a Hackensack Fire Department deputy chief who spent several weeks at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and advocated for better conditions for public safety workers. It is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano, Dan Benson and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson.
“These workers are our first line of defense. Their jobs are not only stressful, they are dangerous,” said Quijano (D-Union). “This new law ensures that public safety workers are adequately covered if they suffer a debilitating illness or worse related to their duties at work.”
The law mandates that if, in the course of employment, a public safety worker can demonstrate exposure to a serious communicable disease or a biological warfare or epidemic-related pathogen or biological toxin, all care or treatment of the worker, including services needed to ascertain whether the worker contracted the disease, shall be compensable under workers’ compensation, even if the worker is found to not have the disease. If the worker has the disease, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that any injury, disability, chronic or corollary illness or death caused by the disease is compensable under workers’ compensation.
The law affirms workers’ compensation coverage for any injury, illness or death of any public safety worker arising from the administration of a vaccine related to threatened or potential bioterrorism or epidemic as part of an inoculation program in connection with the employee’s employment or in connection with any governmental program or recommendation for the inoculation of workers.
“Public safety workers expose themselves to dangerous situations that could prove debilitating and even deadly,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Most importantly, the work can be a significant health hazard. Our workers deserve comparable coverage.”
“These workers put their lives on the line for the safety of others,” said Reynolds-Jackson (D-Hunterdon, Mercer). “They should never have to question whether they will be compensated accordingly for the sacrifices that they make.”
Under the law, there is a rebuttable presumption that any condition or impairment of health of a public safety worker which may be caused by exposure to cancer-causing radiation or radioactive substances is a compensable occupational disease under workers’ compensation if the worker was exposed to a carcinogen, or the cancer-causing radiation or radioactive substance, in the course of employment.
The worker must also demonstrate that the injury, illness or death has manifested during his or her employment as a public safety worker. Employers are required to maintain records of instances of the workers deployed where the presence of known carcinogens was indicated by documents provided to local fire or police departments under the “Worker and Community Right to Know Act,” P.L.1983, c.315 (C.34:5A-1 et seq.) and where events occurred which could result in exposure to those carcinogens.
In the case of any firefighter with seven or more years of service, due to the extremely high likelihood that such a firefighter will be repeatedly exposed to smoke and other carcinogens, the law creates a rebuttable presumption that if the firefighter suffers an injury, illness or death which may be caused by cancer, including leukemia, that the cancer is a compensable occupational disease. To be eligible for this occupational cancer disability benefit, the type of cancer involved must be a type caused by exposure to heat, radiation, or a known or suspected carcinogen as defined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
A firefighter with less than seven years of service as a firefighter who experiences an injury, illness or death caused by exposure to a known carcinogen, cancer-causing radiation or a radioactive substance, including cancer and damage to reproductive organs, is subject to the provisions of section 6 of this Act.
The law also provides that, with respect to all of the rebuttable presumptions of coverage, employers may require workers to undergo, at employer expense, reasonable testing, evaluation and monitoring of worker health conditions relevant to determining whether exposures or other presumed causes are actually linked to the deaths, illnesses or disabilities, and further provides that the presumptions of compensability are not adversely affected by failures of employers to require testing, evaluation or monitoring.
The public safety workers covered by the law include paid or volunteer emergency, correctional, fire, police and certain medical personnel.
The legislation was approved in June by the full Assembly, 73-5-0, and by the full Senate, 38-0.