Incident Safety Officer: Duties and Responsibilities

Maybe one of the ISO?s most important duties is forecasting unsafe acts, conditions and behaviors, before they happen.


The Incident Safety Officer (ISO) is a senior member of the "Command Team". This person works directly under and with the incident commander (IC) to help manage the risks that our members take at emergencies. A timeless truth is that we must keep our members safe in order to effectively deliver customer service (i.e.: patient care, rescue efforts, fire suppression, etc.)

The notion of a command team indicates that there is a shared responsibility for the proper and safe performance of our troops. The fact is that one of the roles that the ISO needs to play is that of challenging and confirming the incident commander's actions. This article will address this concept as well as describe just what a safety officer must do to be successful at this most critical role.

As the opening paragraph suggests, the ISO has to be included in the development and monitoring of the incident action plan. As a quick review, there are five elements that make-up the very important incident action plan (IAP). These components are strategy, tactics, and resources, risk management and estimated outcomes. Strategy is the broad approach to handle the situation.

A basic strategy might be to rescue the victim out of an overturned vehicle. The tactics to reach this broad goal would be to use a hydraulic tool to remove the roof and steering wheel. The resources are composed of the apparatus, equipment and personnel that are available to implement the tactics as well as what will be needed. Risk management is the on-going evaluation determining if the risk that we take are worth the benefits that we gain (sometimes called risk versus benefit analysis).

The simplest way to express the risk management process is by using three statements of risk analysis. First, "we will risk a lot to save a lot"; this usually looks like saving lives. Next, "we will risk a little to save a little", generally applied to property concerns. Finally, "we will take no risk for what is already lost". Sometimes the opportunity to help has passed before we can arrive on location. The risk management plan must be carries out using standard operating procedures, proper training techniques and using the incident management system (see January's Safety Officer Column - Part III).

The ISO must be in on the development of this plan. He/she should serve as the "bell weather" to make sure that the plan is sound from a safety and operations standpoint. In mature emergency medical and fire organizations, this process of checks and balances is viewed as a positive addition rather than a burden or weakness. Much like a jet liner pilot and the air traffic controller, there is an effort to always make the correct decisions regarding takeoffs and landings. If either person determines that a flaw exists in the flight plan, that person is obligated to fix the problem without delay. In simple terms, the IC and the ISO command team is a system of checks and balance designed to keep us safe.

Once the IAP is established, the safety officer monitors the plan for effectiveness and efficiency. The safety officer becomes another set of eyes and ears for the IC. The safety officer pays close attention to many concerns and activities at an emergency. The ISO is checking for unsafe acts, unsafe conditions and unsafe behaviors that could cause injury or death to the operating crews. For instance, is proper body substance isolation techniques being used during patient treatment or is a charge hose line properly placed when a hydraulic tool is being operated for vehicle extrication? By being trained, educated and experienced in all phases of the operations being performed, the ISO can be an effective observer. This may sound simple, but the truth is that it is a formidable task.

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