Establishing a proactive safety and health risk management system in the fire service
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Establishing a proactive safety and health risk management system in the fire service

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  • Alternative Title:
    BMC Public Health
  • Description:

    Formalized risk management (RM) is an internationally accepted process for reducing hazards in the workplace, with defined steps including hazard scoping, risk assessment, and implementation of controls, all within an iterative process. While required for all industry in the European Union and widely used elsewhere, the United States maintains a compliance-based regulatory structure, rather than one based on systematic, risk-based methodologies. Firefighting is a hazardous profession, with high injury, illness, and fatality rates compared with other occupations, and implementation of RM programs has the potential to greatly improve firefighter safety and health; however, no descriptions of RM implementation are in the peer-reviewed literature for the North American fire service.


    In this paper we describe the steps used to design and implement the RM process in a moderately-sized fire department, with particular focus on prioritizing and managing injury hazards during patient transport, fireground, and physical exercise procedures. Hazard scoping and formalized risk assessments are described, in addition to the identification of participatory-led injury control strategies. Process evaluation methods were conducted to primarily assess the feasibility of voluntarily instituting the RM approach within the fire service setting.


    The RM process was well accepted by the fire department and led to development of 45 hazard specific-interventions. Qualitative data documenting the implementation of the RM process revealed that participants emphasized the: value of the RM process, especially the participatory bottom-up approach; usefulness of the RM process for breaking down tasks to identify potential risks; and potential of RM for reducing firefighter injury.


    As implemented, this risk-based approach used to identify and manage occupational hazards and risks was successful and is deemed feasible for U.S. (and other) fire services. While several barriers and challenges do exist in the implementation of any intervention such as this, recommendations for adopting the process are provided. Additional work will be performed to determine the effectiveness of select controls strategies that were implemented; however participants throughout the organizational structure perceived the RM process to be of high utility while researchers also found the process improved the awareness and engagement in actively enhancing worker safety and health.

    Electronic supplementary material

    The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12889-015-1675-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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