(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Linda Stender, Joseph V. Egan, Jason O’Donnell and Benjie E. Wimberly to ensure public safety workers who suffer a disability or death due to their often extreme work requirements are covered by workers’ compensation was released Thursday by an Assembly panel.
The bill (A-1347), 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.
“These workers are our first line of defense. Their jobs are not only stressful, they are dangerous,” said Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “This bill ensures that public safety workers are adequately covered if they suffer a debilitating illness or worse related to their duties at work.”
“Public safety workers expose themselves to dangerous situations that could prove debilitating and even deadly,” said Egan (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “The work is grueling not just physically, but mentally. The work itself can be a health hazard. They deserve comparable coverage.”
“The work of fire, police and other public safety workers is demanding. They respond to situations that most of us only experience vicariously by watching or reading the news,” said O’Donnell (D-Hudson). “They are entitled to coverage that stands up to the demands of the job.”
“It took years for Ground Zero first responders to get coverage for cancers stemming from the recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This bill helps protect first responders of such a nightmarish scenario by preventing similar delays in the future.”
The bill creates a rebuttable presumption of workers’ compensation coverage for any death or disability, including post traumatic stress disorder, if the death or disability arises from the physical or psychological impact of stress or injury experienced by a public safety worker engaged in response to a terrorist attack, epidemic, or other catastrophic emergency, in which the worker is exposed to pathogens or biological toxins from biological warfare or epidemics, hazardous chemicals used in, or related to, chemical warfare, or cancer-causing radiation or radioactive substances, or witnesses death and suffering of a magnitude sufficient to cause significant psychological trauma.
The bill requires employers of public safety workers expected to respond to terrorist attacks or catastrophic emergencies to have programs to provide needed psychological and social counseling for the workers during and after the incidents or emergencies.
The bill also affirms that if, in the course of employment, a public safety worker is exposed 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 bill affirms workers’ compensation coverage for any injury, illness or death of any employee, including an employee who is not a public safety worker, arising from the administration of a vaccine related to threatened or potential bioterrorism or epidemic as part of a inoculation program in connection with the employee’s employment or in connection with any governmental program or recommendation for the inoculation of workers.
The bill creates 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. 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 five 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 bill creates a rebuttable presumption that if the firefighter suffers an injury, illness or death which may be caused by cancer, that the cancer is a compensable occupational disease.
The bill 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 bill include paid or volunteer emergency, correctional, fire, police and certain medical personnel.
The bill was released by the Assembly Labor Committee.