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sustain an injury or contract a disease arising out of their
employment for which the employer and worker’s compensation insurer
deny worker’s compensation benefits, on the grounds that the worker
cannot identify a specific traumatic event that caused or
precipitated the injury or disease. Such a denial may be contrary
to fact and law.
The real irony of
infectious diseases in the work environment is that how do you prove
that you became infected in the work area. There are no outward
signs to the body that someone is now infected. How does one prove
Occupational Insurance is based on verifiable injuries. I went to
the work area as a complete worker and left as a damaged employee.
So…How does someone demonstrate to some unknown person that 1) have
they have ever used IV drugs, 2) what is their personal sexual
preference, 3) have they been monogamous, or 4) do they possess a
This group is to
help support those infected in the work area and to give support on
challenging the system for a change to it.
A coalition of lawmakers wants to classify the infection as an
occupational disease. Affected firefighters would benefit.
By Jennifer Lin
Inquirer Staff Writer
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Saturday, January 27, 2001
Pennsylvania lawmakers have launched an effort to help Philadelphia
firefighters infected with hepatitis C, in ways that City Hall officials
Last Tuesday, on the first day of business for the state legislature, a
bipartisan coalition of 80 lawmakers from across the state sponsored a
bill to make hepatitis C an occupational disease for emergency rescue
Specifically, the bill would presume that emergency-rescue workers
contracted the disease on the job and make them eligible for workers'
Under the current system, the onus of proof falls on the infected
paramedics and firefighters, who must show where and when they were
exposed to blood carrying the hepatitis C virus.
But current law already presumes that hepatitis is a work-related
disease for nurses, blood processors and "auxiliary workers," a vague
"That's an unreasonable standard, to say, "If you're a firefighter, you
have to prove it," said State Rep. Dennis O'Brien (R., Phila.). With
hepatitis considered an occupational disease for nurses and other
health-care workers, he said, "it's not a leap to include emergency
workers. They're the ones who take people to the emergency rooms."
More than a dozen Democratic and Republican lawmakers who represent
Philadelphia at the city, state and federal levels announced the
legislative effort yesterday at the union headquarters of Local 22 of
the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Providing better health benefits and sick-time relief for infected
firefighters has been a major point of contention between the union and
city. Last Thursday, the two sides ended a seven-month contract
stalemate, with the firefighters winning some consessions on sick-time
for ailing members.
In the last year, the union has learned that as many as 200 retired and
active firefighters are infected with the hepatitis C virus.
To date, 62 have notified Fire Commissioner Harold Hairston that they
believe their sickness is work-related, according to City Solicitor
Kenneth Trujillo. He said six of those firefighters have followed up by
filing claims for workers' compensation.
Trujillo said that if the bill passed, the hepatitis C crisis could end
up costing $10 million over the next five years in higher costs for
workers' compensation, including medical expenses and lost time.
For workers' compensation, the city must cover costs from its operating
budget since it is not insured against claims.
The city is fighting all claims from firefighters with hepatitis C. It
has adopted the position taken by the U.S. Centers for Disease Conrol
and Prevention (CDC) that although it is possible for emergency-rescue
workers to contract hepatitis C on the job, they do not run a higher
risk of infection. The city, again echoing the CDC, has argued in
workers' compensation cases that firefighters must have gotten infected
from nonoccupational sources.
The hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood and can lead to
chronic liver disease or liver failure. It is dubbed the slient
epidemic because symptoms may not develop for 20 years. Before 1992 and
routine screening of blood donations, the hepatitis C virus could be
contracted from blood transfusions.
Now, among the general population, the two most likely causes of
infection are sharing needles for intrevenous drug use or sex with
multiple partners. It is also thought that the virus could be
transmitted through body piercing, tatoos or acupuncture.
In Harrisburg, the desire to provide legislative relief to Philadelphia
firefighters is gaining momentum. House Majority Leader John M. Perzel
said he would make the bill a priority this year.
"We have all of the pieces to make this happen," said State Rep. W.
Curtis Thomas (D., Phila.), a prime cosponsor of the bill.
State Rep. Michael McGeehan (D., Phila.), the other prime cosponsor,
said a similar bill last year was not voted on by the General Assembly
because it was introduced late in the lagislative season.
"Time just ran out," McGeehan said.
But while last year's bill had 40 sponsors, this year's effort has
doubled the number, reflecting the deepening support for the measure,
As hepatitis C awareness spreads across the country, other states,
including California, Florida, New York and Nevada, have moved to make
it a work-related disease for emergency rescue workers.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Phila.), said interest was
growing in Congress to expand the $10 million earmarked last year for
hepatitis C research and prevention among firefighters. The House
leadership, he said, would like to expand hepatitis C grant money as
much as $100 million.