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Nonfatal injuries remain high among firefighters

Dec. 21, 2018 - Firefighters continue to experience frequent nonfatal injuries, especially strains and sprains, according to a NIOSH study of injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Firefighting is an undeniably dangerous job where work can often lead to injury and death. Previous studies have investigated firefighter injuries, but these studies have been limited to individual departments, small groups of departments, or subsets within the firefighter workforce (e.g., wildland firefighter). The NIOSH study used a nationally representative sample of emergency departments to further our understanding of nonfatal injuries among firefighters.

Investigators looked at nonfatal injuries to firefighters, from 2003 through 2014, identified in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System occupational supplement (NEISS-Work). Administered by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, NEISS-Work compiles work-related injury information from a representative sample of 67 emergency departments in the United States. To calculate average annual rates, labor force estimates for firefighters were obtained from the National Fire Protection Association.

In the years studied, approximately 351,800 firefighters received treatment in an emergency department for a nonfatal injury. This number translates to 260 injuries for every 10,000 firefighters, overall, including career and volunteer workers. Among career firefighters only, however, the annual rate jumped to 699, while volunteer workers had a rate of 39 injuries per 10,000 firefighters.

These findings highlight the importance of additional research and prevention needs in the areas of lifting techniques and body posture and movements. The next step for NIOSH is to use NEISS-Work to conduct follow-back surveys of injured firefighters to gather more details about their injuries and exposures. The information will be used to determine common injuries and exposures, assist in identifying subsets of the firefighting population who are at most risk for occupational injuries and exposures, and identify circumstances and activities that put firefighters at risk. These incident and circumstance details collected directly from firefighters are critical to better understanding and addressing health and safety challenges of this workforce.

More information is available:

Nonfatal Injuries to Firefighters Treated in U.S. Emergency Departments, 2003–2014
NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation And Prevention

December 21, 2018 
By National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

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