The concept of a safety officer can take several forms. According to the NFPA's approach, you can have a Health and Safety Officer and/or an Incident Safety Officer. In the world of general industry, management leadership in safety is typically a specific "safety manager" function, or a part of some other supervisory role in routine operations.
Remember that safety practices are no different than any other "business function". It is important that the safety processes in your organization have structure, responsibility and authority; and that any safety initiative be considered an organizational intervention - e.g. the implementation of any equipment, process, or standard operating guideline/procedure that changes existing organizational patterns and cultural practices.
The Health And Safety Officer
The Health and Safety Officer has a more global role than the Incident Safety Officer, but many times, particularly in small departments, are one in the same person performing both functions. If they are separate individuals, they must work in a collaborative environment. This role will assure the functions and activities outlined by NFPA 1500 are executed for the organization.
The Incident Safety Officer
The Incident Safety Officer is typically part of the command structure at an incident, performing the explicit tasks of looking for unsafe situations, conditions, or practices during an incident. This role generally coordinates their duties with that of the accountability officer and the rapid intervention team. In addition, this person generally has the authority and responsibility to suspend or cease actions if unsafe acts, unsafe situations, or similar safety issues pose a problem and threat of immediate danger.
Typical of the duties and responsibilities of this person would be assure that: protective equipment is worn; personnel operate in teams in hazardous areas; back-up crews are in place; an accountability system is operating; and safety practices are being used.
The Incident Safety Officer must act as the eyes and ears of safety for the incident commander.
Fundamentally, the basic role of the Incident Safety Officer is to assure the safety of those responding and performing at a scene. This person must have specialized knowledge and skills to perform this role, know when they are "in over their head" and need help, and be able to work within the incident command system.
Regulations To Be Aware Of
This function requires knowledge of regulations, standards and policies applicable to the operations being performed, why the practice exists, and how to manage the inappropriate practice or action. It is up to the chief to know and understand which regulations, standards and policies apply to the organization and assure the Health and Safety Officer and the Incident Safety Officer properly apply them.
One specific rule that requires monitoring, policies and actions is that of infection control. Under the "Ryan White Act", each organization must appoint a "designated officer" to handle infectious disease issues. NFPA1581, the Standard for Fire Department Infection Control Program, provides good guidance to assure compliance.
Another specific issue deals with hazardous materials response. OSHA, EPA and NFPA all have specific hazardous materials regulations and standards for the protection of emergency responders.
While there may be more, these two are typical of the regulatory intent, which is to protect emergency responders from dangers they will be exposed to. By understanding the regulations and the intent of the regulations, it is easier to communicate why safe practices must be implemented and what is being done improperly requiring corrective action.
There are some additional duties discussed in the standard and elaborated on later which at least bear comment here. Recordkeeping and documentation are important elements to monitor what is happening in the real world and how that is affecting the operations and the health and wellness of the organization. In addition, the failure to keep records may pose civil and criminal concerns if injuries or death arise. Periodic review and analysis of the records and the data developed help improve operations in the long run.
Suffice it to say, the NFPA Standards have been a guiding light in the development of a safer and more productive work environment for fire and EMS personnel. The extent to which each emergency service organization is successful in its implementation can vary greatly. Success is directly related to the integration of the standard's key applicable components, into each ESO's specific culture and program.
The success of the Safety Program you implement is directly related to the impact your Safety Officer(s) has in assuring goals, practices, procedures, and motivation to work safe.
Safety 101 - A new series from the technical and administrative perspective, designed to help you reduce emergency responder injuries, illnesses, property loss and death!
- Safety 101: An Introduction
- Safety 101: Lesson 1
- Safety 101: Lesson 2
- Safety 101: Lesson 3
- Safety 101: Lesson 4
- Safety 101: Lesson 5
- Safety 101: Lesson 6
- Safety 101: Lesson 7
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.