For years, there have been safety initiatives in the Emergency Services discipline, and yet we continue to injure tens of thousands of firefighters each year, and over 100 typically die in any year. Despite the initiatives that have been implemented to date, there remains an attitude that injuries and even death are a fact of life in this business. Standards are being developed and implemented, technology enhancements are being integrated into equipment, and safety training is being promoted more and more, yet there are no significant reductions in injuries and deaths to firefighters - WHY?
Maybe we need to take a lesson or two in safety from the business world and apply them to the emergency services. It is safe to say that we would all agree, the elimination of accidents and illnesses is vital to the public interest, and to our organizations. Where there is an accident or illness, it produces economic and social loss, it disrupts productivity of both the individual and the organization, it causes inefficiency to occur, and keeps the organization and individual(s) from enhancing performance.
If we look specifically at the fire service, we can refer to data accumulated and published by the National Fire Protection Association, which details firefighter injuries, illnesses, and deaths. The most recent annualized data available at the time of this writing, found the following:
- 78,750 individuals injured in the line of duty
- 38,045 of these occurred on the fire ground
- 105 firefighters were killed in the line of duty
- 15,900 collisions involving fire department emergency vehicles
- 850 firefighter injuries occurred in these collisions.
While firefighter injuries and fatalities were always a concern to emergency service organizations, "Occupational Safety and Health" was a relatively unknown discipline or activity in the fire and emergency medical service until the introduction of the Occupational Safety and Health Act which is relevant to state workers compensation laws and federal statutes regarding employee injury.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA), authorizes the Secretary of Labor to promulgate and establish federal standards promoting occupational safety ad health. That act provides for inspections and citations for the violation of the regulations created by the Secretary of Labor. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is authorized to regulate workplace safety. Whether or not OSHA applies to you as an agency or a state, the content of the OSHA standards make good practical safety sense.
Employers have the following three responsibilities under the act:
- To provide a safe place to work
- To comply with OSHA standards
- To keep employee work-injury and disease records
Depending on the state, OSHA standards are enforced either directly by the federal government or indirectly via state governments, and variances can be obtained when compliance with a standard is not possible or when the employer can prove that a particular method of operation is at least as safe as what is required by compliance with the OSHA standard. OSHA can impose fines on those who violate regulations.
Over the years, the OSHAct has been successful in the investigation and analysis of serious workplace injuries and illnesses, identifying causes and driving corrective actions to prevent future incidents or reducing the severity of the incidents that do occur. This has resulted in the establishment of best practices and procedures for the enhancement of occupational safety and health. Their initiatives form the basis of much of the Occupational Safety and Health efforts in emergency services today. This topic is not new to business and industry and we can learn from them, as well as from emergency service initiatives.