Michael L. Donahue outlines a 12-step program for improving the health and safety of fire investigators working amid potential hazards. The safety and health of fire investigators working at fire scenes are often taken for granted, since many incorrectly assume that by the time they arrive at a...
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Before an organization can begin to develop an effective fire investigator occupational safety and health program, all personnel in the organization, especially investigators, need to have the proper "safety mindset." This is an important first step in the identification, recognition and modification of attitudes and behaviors that are potentially detrimental to one's safety and health. Safety is both an attitude and a behavior, which is one reason why some of the most progressive organizations with the best health and safety training programs, the largest safety/health budgets and the lowest incidence of injuries, illnesses and fatalities still experience accidents. Individual behavior is one of the most difficult human factors to control that is often a contributor in on-the-job accidents and injuries. The proper attitude plus the proper actions will yield positive "safe" behavior. This formula for success must be embraced, implemented and continuously reinforced organization-wide to be successful in maintaining a safe and healthy working environment.
The following 12 steps are intended as a guideline to assist agency administrators/managers and investigators in changing their behaviors to improve their overall safety and health and to effect positive organizational and operational changes to reduce the potential for future injury, exposure and chronic occupational illnesses and diseases.
1. Admit organizational and behavioral changes are needed. Personnel must want to change their attitudes and behavior. The mindset of not wanting to change because "it's the way things have always been done" has to be set aside. Investigators must be open to the possibility that there may be a better (and safer) way of doing things to accomplish their objectives. The practice of making excuses and erecting roadblocks to change must end if organizations are to achieve success from a safety and health perspective. Many injuries and deaths to investigators can be prevented if individuals possess the proper mindset. All investigators must have the willingness, motivation and desire to adopt a new way of investigating incidents to reduce the potential for injury, exposure and death.
2. Seek assistance and support. Investigators and managers should reach out to sources of information and assistance that can provide knowledge, expertise and experience to better manage and change beliefs. Training, education and technology can help increase your level of safety; however, there are limitations that only the proper attitude, beliefs and actions can overcome. Don't be ignorant and selfish; be willing to ask for help and share information with others at all times.
3. Turn the problem around. A conscious decision to turn bad behaviors, practices and traditions into positive beliefs and safe behaviors must be made by everyone. Successful and effective safety behaviors must be identified, implemented and complied with by all members of the organization, regardless of their position or title. Constantly ask yourself, "What is more important than my personal safety and the safety of those I work with? Don't wait for management to care or act or for an accident to occur; be proactive and cause positive changes to be made that prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities. With respect to one's health and safety, it is always better to be proactive rather than reactive.
4. Take a critical look at your safety sense. Investigators should continuously analyze their beliefs, attitudes and actions with respect to their safety and health. Investigators should not be embarrassed or shy about acknowledging practices that are stupid from a safety or health standpoint, and they should resist the temptation to succumb to peer pressure. When all else fails, a little common sense can often mean the difference between life and death. Although others may think you look stupid wearing a respirator while conducting a fire scene examination, at least you stand a much better chance of enjoying retirement by not lying in a hospital bed attached to a breathing machine. Close calls or acts of stupidity make good stories to tell around the kitchen table as long as you remain alive to tell them.
5. Admit wrongs to others. Management and employees must make a serious commitment to confess their "safety sins." Personnel should not be afraid to share information concerning professional miscalculations or errors in judgment. The ability of others to learn from your mistakes is critical and is a key component of an organization's safety and health program. Although it's a good idea to learn from your mistakes, it's always better to learn from someone else's.