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Safety 101 - Lesson 16

NFPA 1521 Standard for Fire Department Safety Officer contains the minimum requirements for the assignment, duties and responsibilities of a health and safety officer and an incident safety officer for a fire department or other fire service organization.

As we read in an earlier lesson, there are two types of "safety officers" that can and should exist in your organization. One focuses on the overall health and safety program, while the other concentrates on incident safety. Depending on the size and scope of your organization, they can be one and the same person, or two different individuals. In either case, they must know and understand their role and responsibility in order to perform it to the needs of your organization and to provide value to your organization.

Employee Job Descriptions

A job is a collection of tasks and responsibilities that an employee is responsible to conduct. Jobs have titles. A task is a typically defined as a unit of work, that is, a set of activities needed to produce some result, e.g., vacuuming a carpet, writing a memo, sorting the mail, etc. Complex positions in the organization may include a large number of tasks, which are sometimes referred to as functions.

Job descriptions are lists of the general tasks, or functions, and responsibilities of a position. Typically, they also include to whom the position reports, specifications such as the qualifications needed by the person in the job, salary range for the position, etc. Job descriptions are usually developed by conducting a job analysis, which includes examining the tasks and sequences of tasks necessary to perform the job. The analysis looks at the areas of knowledge and skills needed by the job. Note that a role is the set of responsibilities or expected results associated with a job.

A job usually includes several roles. Typically, job descriptions are used especially for advertising to fill an open position, determining compensation and as a basis for performance reviews. Not everyone believes that job descriptions are highly useful, as some might point out numerous concerns about job descriptions that many other people have as well, including, e.g., that too often job descriptions are not worded in a manner such that the employee's performance can be measured, they end up serving as the basis for evaluation rather than performance, etc. However, the use of job descriptions is a widespread management practice and overall brings significant value to organizations.

Fire Department Safety Officer Job Duties

NFPA 1521 Standard for Fire Department Safety Officer contains the minimum requirements for the assignment, duties and responsibilities of a health and safety officer and an incident safety officer for a fire department or other fire service organization. This standard defines the basic duties of a safety officer which can include for either or both positions of health and safety officer and incident safety officer:

  • Position Assignment
  • Qualifications for the Position
  • Authority for the Position
  • Risk Management Role
  • Laws, Codes and Standards
  • Training and Education
  • Accident Prevention
  • Accident Investigation, Procedures, and Review
  • Records Management and Data Analysis
  • Apparatus and Equipment
  • Facility Inspection
  • Health Maintenance
  • Liaison
  • Occupational Health and Safety Committee
  • Infection Control
  • Critical Incident Stress Management
  • Post Incident Analysis
  • Incident Management System
  • Incident Scene Safety
  • Fire Suppression
  • Emergency Medical Service Operations
  • Hazardous Materials Operations
  • Special Operations

These must be compared to your organization's various roles and responsibilities, with the tasks validated and then integrated into one or more job descriptions in the organization.

Writing Job Descriptions

The cornerstone to any employment decision begins with job analysis. Job analysis is the most basic activity in human resource management. Accurate information on all jobs is necessary to efficiently direct and/or control the operations any organization.

Competition and equal employment opportunity legislation has made job analysis a mandatory organizational consideration for businesses (and an emergency service organization is a business). Because human resources represent the largest cost item for most businesses, managers must have current and systematized information on all jobs in order to produce products and services efficiently. The myriad of laws, guidelines, and court decisions concerning equal employment opportunity make job analysis necessary. Small businesses have been quite vulnerable on the issue of discrimination in employment practices. One way to defend employment practices is to conduct job analysis and prepare job descriptions.

Job descriptions are the most visible output from job analysis. Comprehensive job descriptions developed from job analysis are used in selection, training, performance appraisal, and compensation. There are many formats used in preparing job descriptions. Included in this Lesson is one job description format used by an emergency service organization.

Job analysis is an in-depth study of a job and provides information for job descriptions. The job analyst will gather information about jobs through interviewing employees, observing performance of certain tasks, asking employees to fill out questionnaires and worksheets, and collecting information about a job from secondary sources.

The job analyst should write-up the results of the analysis and review them with the job incumbent. The documentation is then presented to the incumbent's supervisor for review (often the incumbent's supervisor is the job analyst.) The supervisor may add, delete or modify duties, knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics. After supervisory approval is obtained, the documentation is forwarded through channels for final approval. A signed and dated job description is then prepared. This job description becomes the official record for this particular job.

The job incumbent has an important role in this process. The following suggestions should help incumbents assist the job analyst:

  • Spend some time thinking about the job.
  • Make notes, or keep a diary of work related activities.
  • At the outset fully explain the incumbents' concept of the job to the analyst.
  • Focus on the facts - do not overstate or understate duties knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics.
  • Refrain from side issues. The analyst is only concerned with the job itself. Job performance, wages, complaints, relationships with co-workers, etc., are not relevant to this activity.
  • Remember that the incumbents' input is critical; however, establishing the boundaries of the job is a management decision.
  • Be aware that there will be no adverse consequences from job analysis. For example, no person's salary will be reduced and no person's job will be eliminated. The analyst may recommend changes in title or other realignments, subject to management decision.

The following is a list of commonly used job analysis terms.

  • Job duty - a single specific task.
  • Knowledge - a body of information applied directly to the performance of a duty.
  • Skill - a present, observable competence to perform a learned activity.
  • Ability - a present competence to perform an observable behavior or a behavior that results in an observable product.
  • Physical characteristic - the physical attributes employees must have in order to perform job duties; unaided or with the assistance of a reasonable accommodation.
  • Credentials and Experience - the minimal acceptable level of education, experience, and certifications necessary for employment.
  • Other Characteristics - duties, knowledge, skills, and abilities that do not have a logical place in the job description.

Job descriptions should be written in brief and clear sentences. The basic structure for sentences in a job description should be "implied subject/verb/object/explanatory phrase." It is best to use action verbs like "types" and "files."

As stated previously, job descriptions are written narratives of the major duties and responsibilities of job incumbents.

A sample job description for a safety officer for a volunteer fire company follows. It is an example, which works for that agency. As with any policy, procedure, or guideline from another agency, it should be evaluated and reviewed with members and officers alike, modifying it to your organization's needs.

Lesson #16

As with any activity that has to be conducted for an organization, the safety officer's expectations, training, and experience must be known quantities, both for the person performing the job as well as those who must receive guidance and direction from that person.

Safety 101 - A new series from the technical and administrative perspective, designed to help you reduce emergency responder injuries, illnesses, property loss and death!

Dr. William F. Jenaway, CSP, CFO, CFPS is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in Safety and Risk Management, in the insurance industry. Bill is also an adjunct professor in Risk Analysis in the Graduate School at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He was named "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" as Chief of the King of Prussia, PA, Volunteer Fire Company, and is the author the text Emergency Service Risk Management.