The nature of first responders’ uncontrolled work environments leads to unanticipated exposure to such dangerous chemicals as opioids, bodily fluids, fumes and hazardous building materials. Nearly 20 years after the 9-11 attacks, first responders are seeing evidence of the long-term impact of exposure to carcinogens: cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, renal disease and respiratory disease, among other health complications. This is the harsh reminder of the reality of occupational hazards faced by firefighters and first responders each and every day. To reduce their health risks, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), an association for occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) scientists and professionals, announces the availability of free resources to inform emergency response leaders about the longer-term health risks, not just daily safety on the job.
Emergency response leaders who are seeking occupational health resources, or want to hire an occupational health professional, can find help on a new website, https://www.workerhealthsafety.org/first-responders. The site includes information about identifying and reducing risks, connecting with an OEHS professional, and a free infographic for employers.
The role of the OEHS professional is to help first responders Anticipate, Recognize, Evaluate, Control, and Communicate these hazards – before, during, and after emergencies. OEHS scientists and professionals work alongside Safety Officers during normal work activity and in emergency response. They identify potential risks – not just the ones that are obvious today, but also those that may result in long-term health effects years from now.
“While first responders are at a higher level of health risks due to the inherently dangerous environment in which they work, these risks – and adverse health effects that may manifest themselves over time – can be minimized by working with an OEHS expert today,” says Lawrence Sloan, CEO at AIHA.
AIHA recommends four ways that OEHS Professionals might help first responders develop long-term health strategies:
- Develop strategies to reduce exposure to risks such as chemical spills, toxic fumes, heat exposure, drug exposure and smoke inhalation
- Train first responders to address health and safety risks pre-event, during an event, and post-event
- Develop an Exposure Control Plan
- Introduce new technology, such as direct reading instruments, mathematical modeling, and information resources to enhance existing protocols
AIHA urges those who work or volunteer as response and recovery workers, as well as the public, to guard against hazards during disaster response and recovery efforts. Some common hazards include downed power lines, carbon monoxide poisoning, exposures during flood and mold cleanup, and risk of structural collapse. For disaster response guidance, visit AIHA resource center.
To access free resources for your department or if you are interested in finding an OEHS professional in your area, visit AIHA’s Consultant Listing.