Safety and Loss Control for the Fire Service
The phrase firefighter safety refers to many different areas: safety on the fireground, safety in department quarters, apparatus and response safety, firefighter physical fitness, etc. All these areas must be addressed when you are developing a comprehensive, high-quality, effective safety and loss control program for your department.
There is an ever-growing need for the fire service to provide such a program. The most recent statistics available from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) indicate that in 1984 there were over 100,000 firefighter injuries nationwide in the line of duty. Of these, over 62,000, or three out of every five, occurred during fireground operations. More than 6,800 injuries occurred during training, which is one of the most controllable situations in the fire service.
The National Safety Council estimates that in 1980 deaths and injuries on the job cost the nation’s businesses about $30 billion and that the average cost of a disabling injury is now approximately $9,400.
Injuries to personnel can cost fire departments a great deal of money. One on-the-job injury can lead to days lost from work and create a myriad of money problems. The department may have to increase its overtime pay to fill in with extra people. Workers’ compensation premiums for the fire department will probably increase as a result of accidents. In the case of a vehicle accident, expensive fire apparatus may have to be repaired or replaced. And an accident may even mean the loss of the most valuable resource any fire department has—the firefighter. These are just some of the additional strains that can be placed on already tight fiscal budgets.
The firefighting profession is inherently dangerous. No matter how safety conscious we are, injuries will occur. It goes with the territory. However, many injuries that occur both on and off the fireground are preventable. We can reduce, if not eliminate, unnecessary injuries by incorporating safety education into our daily training programs. Unfortunately, we are not doing this effectively enough at the present time.
Accidents and injuries can and will be prevented if each fire department makes a commitment to reduce and eliminate them. The first thing to understand is that safety and loss control do not begin on the fireground. Safety and loss control involve changes of attitude before you reach the fireground and must begin in the engine house with training.
Basic safety management theory says that every accident is the result of many factors and causes—this is the theory of multiple causation. These factors are also known as contributing causes—those causes that have been permitted to exist within the organization and that can be categorized into a number of areas.
Contributing causes can be anything from the lack of safety policies to the lack of enforcement when the policies and procedures do exist. Contributing causes include: inadequate training, inadequate care of protective equipment, and firefighters who are allowed to execute unsafe procedures. Simply put, there is usually more than one reason that an accident occurs.
Before the publication of INDUSTRIAL ACCIDENT PREVENTION by H.W. Heinrich in 1931, safety management as we know it today was, at best, a hit-and-miss proposition. From Heinrich’s work came the current strategy that more accidents are caused by unsafe acts than by unsafe conditions. Heinrich suggested an accident sequence that explains how injuries occur. This has come to be known as the “domino theory.” It involves the following five factors:
- Social environment,
- Human factors,
- Unsafe acts and conditions,
If you change or eliminate the most controllable factor—unsafe acts and conditions—you can prevent an accident.
Risk and loss control practices that have been established since the early loss control concepts of Heinrich give us four methods for reducing the number of accidents:
- Execute technical revision of policies and procedures to comply with safe practices;
- Train to reinforce safe policies and procedures;
- Select and place personnel in appropriate positions depending on job requirements;
- Discipline personnel who disregard safety policies and standard operating procedures.
Some departments have their occupational safety and health standards mandated by state legislation, but many do not. In those cases, successful fire department safety operations must begin with the command staff, whose job it is to modify existing conditions and operations if they are not adequate.
In any ease, a safety and loss control program should be completely integrated into the department’s day-today operations. In order to make the program effective, everyone—from the fire chief to the newest rookie— must be committed to it. The program’s goals and objectives should be to make sure that personnel, equipment, and apparatus are not lost through accident or injury.
After your department has decided to institute a safety program, you are ready for the next step. Select an appropriate individual to administer the program. Many departments are choosing the training officer and training division to act in this capacity because so many of the safety duties parallel those of the training division.
The safety officer has a number of responsibilities when administering the loss control program. One of these is to examine and determine the hazards that exist within the department’s operations. The safety program should then be geared to correct and/or control these hazards in the basic day-today emergency and non-emergency operations.
The safety officer also should offer his technical knowledge when it comes to purchasing and designing safe equipment and systems for fire department personnel. The safety program should teach firefighters proper training and safety techniques, such as how to correctly handle tools and apparatus. A safety officer should investigate accidents to determine the causes and recommend action to prevent the same type of accident from reoccurring. A good safety officer may even be able to reduce unnecessary litigation as a result of accident investigations.
A fire department’s safety program shouldn’t be a haphazard attempt at reducing accidents. Organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the National Fire Academy, and the International Fire Service Training Association all have resource books available that you can read to learn more about organizing safety and survival programs for your department.
Before you implement a safety and loss control program you must spell out your goals and objectives, and select a responsible, interested person to administer the operation. Safety is a state of mind and must be an integral part of every procedure within the fire department. By reviewing past injuries and investigating causes we can begin to correct unsafe procedures and eventually elminate preventable accidents.