Provincial legislation change presumes that if a first responder is diagnosed with PTSD, then the condition is work-related.
By Francine KopunCity Hall Bureau
Tue., Feb. 8, 2022
The cost of paying wages to city employees who become ill or are injured on the job is soaring, according to 2022 city of Toronto budget numbers.
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board costs, which were less than $16 million in 2010, are expected to hit $45 million in 2022, mostly due to provincial legislation around post-traumatic stress disorder claims for first responders, cancer claims for firefighters, and more recently, COVID-19 related claims, according to Stephen Conforti, executive director, financial planning division, city of Toronto.
The $45-million figure does not include claims at the city’s many boards, agencies and commissions, and does not include the cost of WSIB claims at Toronto Police Service, which are expected to hit $16 million in 2022. WSIB claims at police services were up 18 per cent in 2021 alone, after a one-year decline of seven per cent in 2020.
The overall long-term increase reflects changes to provincial legislation in 2016, which presume that if a first responder or other designated worker is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a psychiatrist or psychologist, the condition is work-related, according to Conforti.
Additionally, provincial legislation introduced in 2014 presumes certain cancers in firefighters to be work related when certain conditions are met. The legislation, retroactive to 1960, covers 14 different cancers, now treated as occupational diseases among firefighters.
Additional cancers were later added and as of July 1, 2018, there are 17 cancers that are applicable under WSIB presumptive regulations for firefighters.
The association representing local firefighters says the legislative changes were necessary to protect the men and women whose workplace includes burning buildings, constructed with prefabricated materials and filled with contents containing large amounts of plastics, which cause fires to burn hotter and with more toxins than in the past.
“As a result of this, more and more firefighters were being diagnosed with the same cancers,” said Kevin McCarthy, president, Toronto Professional Firefighters Association L3888.
Prior to the presumptive legislations, firefighters had to prove their cancer was related to fire fighting, until the Ontario government accepted that within certain occupations, specific cancers are almost always job-related.
“Legislation was written in order to prevent cancer-stricken firefighters from having to fight for their WSIB claims, instead focusing on their treatments, and removing the burden from themselves and their families,” McCarthy said.
He said the past decade has brought more attention to bear on the mental stresses faced on a daily basis by all first responders.
“One of the most important advances in helping with mental health issues in Emergency Services has been presumptive legislation for (post-traumatic stress injuries). It is crucial …(that) those in need know that their call for help will be recognized.”
While WSIB costs are expected to continue rising at Toronto Fire Services, as staffing continues to grow along with the city’s population, the hope is that the increase will not be what it was moving forward.
“Every time a new cancer is added, there is a period of retroactivity that sees a spike in the overall costs,” according to TFS deputy fire chief Debbie Higgins.
“As the last provision in the legislation was added in 2018, we expect that WSIB costs have levelled off to a more stable rate, as retroactive costs have been addressed. In addition, the city has made a number of investments related to mental health (e.g., increased mental health benefits, training and psychologists) to address rising costs associated with PTSD claims.”
Toronto Fire is also planning to hire more staff to deal with WSIB issues, including a new hire in 2022 to manage the force’s post traumatic stress disorder prevention plan.
WSIB costs have also risen dramatically at Paramedic Services in Toronto, from $700,000 in 2010, to $2.3 million in 2016. WSIB costs are projected to hit $13.3 million in 2022.
The recent increase has been driven in part by an increase in reports of staff exposure to infectious disease and associated claims related to occupational stress injury, according to 2022 budget documents.
Although there was a drop in call volumes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the time required to service each call increased. In-hospital wait times continue to be the most significant factor contributing to Toronto Paramedic Services’s system and workload pressures, according to TPS.
Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF