For the past 18 months the NZPFU has participated in a range of FENZ-facilitated committees and working groups charged with the health, safety and wellbeing of our members . There has been some great work done and some of the proposed outcomes will provide long overdue support needed for our members who are exposed to a cocktail of carcinogens and repeated trauma each and every shift.

The NZPFU is advocating strongly for our members to be provided with appropriate screening for early detection of specific cancers. We are pushing for blood tests so that firefighters’ know their PFAS levels. We are strongly committed to ensuring all firefighters and comms centre members have access to the necessary mental wellness support including psychologists and proven programmes developed by firefighters for firefighters. We diligently promote safe practices and advocate for best practice procedures, uniform and equipment.

The primary mantra of the NZPFU is that the health and safety of our members is paramount. It is not a slogan – that principal underpins everything we do. The NZPFU’s history and record speaks for itself.

Increasing medical response is compounding the effect of being repeatedly exposed to trauma and we know from international experience the impact will only increase to affect more of our members, and for some increase the severity of the impact. There is assistance available now including access to the appropriate medical practitioner – just ask. But there is much more that can be done and four working groups (Physical Health, Physical Readiness, Phycological Wellbeing and Support and Recovery project teams) have been exploring the options with a view to making recommendations.

However there are five main issues the NZPFU has with the process to date:

  1. The focus to date has been on developing health testing and standards rather than focusing on using that funding to provide assistance, access to medical practitioners and approved programmes.
  2. As yet no work has been done on the issue of privacy – our members should be able to access assistance without the employer knowing or be provided with any information regarding the employee’s situation or assistance sought. There are statutory requirements for the collection, storage and use of personal information and any health or medical information is particularly sensitive.
  3. We do not agree with mandatory health testing and monitoring in any form, including negative statements or actions made against those that choose not to participate. The NZPFU will strongly encourage members to undertake approved programmes or access approved assistance but no one can or should be forced to have their health and wellbeing tested or monitored.
  4. We do not agree with arbitrary health standards as they do not inform whether the person can perform their duties, only where that person fits on an arbitrary scale.
  5. Any health and wellbeing programme should not be punitive. If the focus is genuinely to support our people in their service to the community, and to continue with a productive career in the fire service then there is no credible reason for using outcomes to undermine the security of employment. To have punitive outcomes linked to any participation in health and wellbeing programmes will defeat the necessary trust needed for any successful programme.

NZPFU members have particular interest in ensuring that any health and wellbeing programmes are only designed and implemented to assist our members and protections must be in place to ensure they cannot be misused now or in the future for punitive purposes.

A lot of great work has been done to date and the NZPFU will be supporting implementation of some of that work provided the above key issues are resolved. We will be working to ensure FENZ’s focus is on providing appropriate screening, monitoring and support for our members to access voluntarily knowing their personal information is safe-guarded and that any involvement will not be misused for punitive reasons.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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