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Protecting Our First Responders Means Always Being Prepared

Photo: Courtesy of Osman Rana

Emergency response workers rescue people from devastating hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and wildfires. But what are people doing to protect them from harm?

As responders put their lives on the line for public safety, the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) works with partners to protect them. It may not be possible to predict the next emergency, but it is possible to prepare for it. Guidance, resources and tools are crucial to help employers, workers, labor unions and professional organizations better prepare for disasters before they happen.

Tools for monitoring responder health 

NIOSH helps keep first responders including law enforcement officers, fire fighters, emergency medical workers and clean-up volunteers safe and healthy in emergency situations.

Local, state and federal agencies are constantly working in partnership with departments to develop tools that allow organizations to keep these workers safe. One example of this is by monitoring the health and safety of emergency responders through all phases of a response in order to protect workers from illness and injury.

It is important for organizations to track and monitor their emergency response and recovery worker activities including damage assessment, debris removal and power restoration following natural disasters and other public health emergencies. Software to collect, analyze and report health data can be extremely useful in identifying responders that would benefit from medical referral and possible enrollment in a long-term health monitoring program.

Protecting emergency medical services workers

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers sustain higher rates of work-related injuries on the job than the general workforce. These injuries can result in days away from work and present a challenge to productivity and retention. Employers can help prevent injuries by better understanding how they occur.

Body motion injuries, including excessive physical effort, awkward posture and repetitive movement, were the leading cause of EMS worker injuries treated in emergency departments. Other injury causes include exposure to harmful substances, slips and falls, motor vehicle incidents and assaults. Employers can contribute to their workforce’s safety and health by promoting safe patient-handling techniques, ensuring workers have the proper equipment to protect themselves from body fluid exposure, educating workers on ways to reduce falls, improving motor vehicle safety by requiring seat belt use, and providing violence prevention training.

Emergencies are unpredictable, but steps can be taken to protect emergency response workers. Promoting a culture of safety requires workers and employers to work together to identify and implement proactive measures to prevent injuries.

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