There exists today no entity which is not governed by policies, rules, and regulations, and the fire service is no exception. In the absence of rules and regulations our world would blossom into a nightmarish environment. Therefore, the need for some type of control mechanism. Unlike other services though, the fire service has a responsibility to protect lives and property from the ravages of a variety of hostile forces, natural and man-made. As a result, the firefighter is typically in a dangerous environment of emergency response and hazardous situations, loss control policies, rules and regulations become critical to develop and adhere to.
The regulations controlling firefighters can be promulgated in a number of ways. At the federal level, state level, regional/county level, or within the department/municipality. Traditionally, however, loss prevention rules have been implemented only if mandated by law or by the insurance carrier and seldom if ever, by the department "on its own". Whatever regulations govern your department should be obtained, reviewed, compiled with, and a copy maintained as reference and educational material. Although not all fire departments are subject to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 has been the single most significant regulatory legislation dealing with loss prevention.
Let's look at the intent of the regulation. Even though the law may not apply, we still want the fundamental purpose of the legislation to be met to assure as much as possible that firefighters can perform in as safe an environment as possible. The objectives are five-fold:
- Establish mandatory standards
- Enforce the established standards
- Define the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers while achieving desired objectives
- Conduct research
- Establish training to increase personnel competency
Generally, the fire department should, as much as possible, advise personnel through the appropriate means of the apparent hazards being faced, any relevant symptoms, appropriate emergency treatment and the proper conditions and precautions of safe use or exposure. In addition, it is necessary to monitor and measure various health hazards, keep available any and all appropriate records including those of inspections, investigations of serious illness and accidents, exposures of employees to potentially toxic materials or harmful materials and similar type items.
Some states, however, are governed by OSHA and fire departments in those states must comply with legislation. An Eastern U.S. city was fined for violation of a State Occupational Safety and Health law when it did not inform firefighters about hazardous materials being stored in a processing plant. The plant caught fire with numerous firefighters requiring medical attention. The citation particularly noted a failure to provide information o the hazardous materials, failure to provide adequate training, and failure to require the use of self-contained breathing apparatus in the presence of hazardous materials. As you can see; YES, the fire department can be cited.
WHAT CAN OSHA DO
An employee, at any time, can request an OSHA inspection with a response being imminent. The appropriate representative has the authorization to enter and question, inspect, investigate, etc. as necessary to determine compliance with the appropriate legislation. Subsequent to that inspection, you are notified of any citations for failure to comply and will be given a defined period to contest that notification. If you fail to contest them, they are no longer subject to review by any entity and judicial reviews applicable to you, the fire department, as an employer is undertaken.
Under the Act, the U.S. district courts have jurisdiction, upon petition of the Secretary of Labor to restrain any conditions or practices which are such that a danger exists that can reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm. The district court can issue an order requiring such steps as may be necessary to avoid, correct, or remove such imminent danger and can prohibit employment where such imminent danger exists1.
Penalties vary with the type of violation, but upon conviction, they may be as high as a civil penalty of more than $10,000 violation for willful or repeated violations and a fine of not more than $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months for the first willful violation resulting in death; second conviction, $20,000 and/or one year imprisonment2. in other words, failure to abide by the regulations can pose significant penalties.
THE INSURER'S INTEREST
Another agency which impacts greatly on all areas of loss control is the insurance company. For each exposure you insure as a fire department, it is possible that an insurance company loss control representative would arrive at some time to conduct a survey. The insurance carrier has a vested interest in your fire department and has the right via your agreeing to the terms of the insurance policy, to visit (at reasonable times) your facility, evaluate the risk being insured, and make appropriate recommendations to control loss. You are not mandated by law to comply, however, if you cannot negotiate a solution or comply per the request, you may find yourself with increased insurance premiums or no insurance. As you will note, a fundamental risk management decision exists at this point.
As discussed earlier, the OSHA legislation was established with a research objective. NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, has the responsibility to perform that research. NIOSH has identified a number of qualities which help comprise effective loss control programs. While not legislation, they make the system work and therefore warrant your attention. NIOSH found the following as "indigenous to effective loss control programs:"
- Continuous management concern and involvement
- Open communication between workers and management
- Good housekeeping
- Workforce older and warned of on the job problems
- Low turn-over and absenteeism
- Progressive and disciplined counseling programs
- Availability of recreational facilities
- Off-the-job safety programs
- Well defined job selection, placement, and advanced programs
Although NIOSH isn't law, it doesn't hurt to comply with guidelines and notices that they provide, nor does it hurt to implement their findings and suggestions when appropriate. Remember our goal of resource management!
As we saw in Article 2, there are seven elements of loss control program, each having a sub-set of components. Let's start with a well-written directed policy on loss control, affirmed to and signed by the senior fire department manager and distributed to all personnel. There are two critical support factors which must be affected at the same time. By assigning a responsible persons o manage loss control activities and providing appropriate hardware and software, management illustrates its willingness to support this effort and not have it as a "paper-tiger" the "hardware" concept is designed to provide for the necessary personal protective equipment to maintain as safe a working environment as possible. The "software" concept ranges into policies, rules, and procedures prepared and distributed; mandatory reports of various types of record sufficient data to make decisions; and secure appropriate insurance coverages or financial programs as deemed necessary. The support issues of claim management and rehabilitation must also be dealt with.
The Department of Transportation provides a variety of requirements for vehicle operations as well as the vehicles themselves. Some will be covered in a later article, however, it is important for you to determine what is or isn't required or appropriate for your department and take the necessary action.
We can't forget NFPA requirements, particularly Standard 1001, Section 3-15.3 which states:
"The firefighter shall demonstrate knowledge of safety procedures to be followed in the use of all equipment and apparatus that the firefighter may be called upon to use"
there are others which apply, but none at such a fundamental stage with such far-reaching short and long-term effect on the firefighter. Again, know what is applicable and implement those activities necessary to achieve as safe a working environment as possible.
NFPA 1500 and NFPA 1501 also deal with Firefighter Safety, however, they are only applicable if adopted by your fire department.
THE NEED IS FUNDAMENTAL
Every fire department management should have written rules or regulations covering situations that are obviously hazardous to life or limb or may result in property damage if safe practices are not followed. The most important reason is that a guidepost or rule serves as a continual reference point for discussion and education in safety for all. Rules can be publicized in the form of posters, signs, booklets, or a combination of these. They may cover a wide variety of subjects such as smoking, horseplay, housekeeping, and lifting. Rules, regulations, or guideposts can be used as excellent tools in training employees in safe practices pertaining to work activities. They can be simple and few in number, but they must be necessary and easily understood. To serve their purpose they must be enforced with equity3.
The loss control policy of the department can be specific to the fire department or generic to all departments of the city. The goal is to have a policy which senior management believes can be implemented, not one which will foster ineffectiveness, lack of compliance, and abuse.
The policy sets the tone of the loss control program, however, there is a loss control chain which must be linked together to attain effective loss control. Like an ordinary chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link. Therefore the policy will only be implemented to the degree that the weakest link enables it to be implemented. When there is a failure in a link, the policy and rules are n jeopardy and the likelihood of a loss is increased.
The components of the link and their roles include:1. The Fire Chief who must openly support the program verbally an in action.
2. The company officer who must practice what he or she preaches, and if less is done, he or she is negligent. The welfare of subordinates is a moral and legal obligation with no place for a good-guy approach. The "good-guy" does nothing but encourage disrespect, distrust, and unsafe acts.
3. The training officer must provide a positive loss control attitude and environment for the student. To do less is equivalent to the "good-guy" officer.
4. the firefighter is the last link in the chain. If the firefighter doesn't accept the responsibility the program will fail. The firefighter must learn to appreciate the value of performing duties in a safe manner.
The loss control policy serves as the foundation for the implementation of the rules and regulations which can be the rudiments of a safe working environment.
The rules can also be quite specific or take the form of specific policies or rules. For example, the AIDS epidemic of 1986 prompted many fire departments, rescue and medic units, and ambulances to promote a specific rule. One department stated it as such:
"Emergency workers exposed to blood or body secretions of someone with a known communicable disease should wear gloves and use mechanical resuscitation measures whenever possible."
Another example is the current trend in smoking. For many department, the policy of selected area smoking is a reality and members are adhering. It is generally through mutual cooperation that issues such as this are resolved. However, they start with policies and rules. Instead of merely preaching, the establishment and enforcement of a policy or rule, action becomes necessary.
UNIONS, ASSOCIATIONS AND COMPANY BY-LAWS
We would be remiss to not discuss the impact of unions and associations conducting activities to support loss prevention. Their objectives are in the best interest of the firefighter, within the parameters of the organization's objectives. All firefighters, officers, union members, and interest parties need to insist on the use of protective equipment, adherence to loss control policies and rules, and insist upon compliance. With no compliance we have a breakdown in the system and need the necessary rules and guidelines to assure controls are maintained.
Other legislation may also exist, covering part or all of your operations. If you are covered by OSHA or other regulations it is imperative that you comply as appropriate. If not, this article will give you the guidance into why business and industry has been so successful in loss control and risk management.