(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 received final legislative approval Monday and now heads to the governor’s desk.
The bill (A-1196), 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 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 to determine 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, including the state police, medical personnel and any other nurse, basic or advanced medical technician or staff responding to a catastrophic incident and directly involved and in contact with the public during such an incident, either as a volunteer, member of a Community Emergency Response Team or employed or directed by a health care facility.
The bill approved 53-19-4 Thursday by the Assembly, and 21-13 by the Senate last week.