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Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Workers at High Risk for Injury and Death

EMS paramedic pushing stretcher with patient to the ambulance

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EMS workers face job hazards that put them at high risk for occupational illnesses, injuries, and fatalities. In 2014, there were over 22,000 emergency medical service workers who were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments.

High Risks for EMS Workers

Emergency medical services (EMS) workers face a variety of job hazards that increase their risks for illnesses, injuries, and fatalities. Common occupational hazards include:

  • Daily lifting of patients and equipment
  • Treatment of patients with infectious illnesses and diseases
  • Exposure to hazardous chemicals and patient bodily fluids
  • Riding in high-speed emergency vehicles
  • Riding in emergency air-lift vehicles

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most occupational injuries to EMS workers occur while responding to 9-1-1 calls. Among EMS worker illnesses and injuries, the most common diagnosis relates to sprains and strains to the upper and lower body, hands, and fingers. Approximately 50% of injuries are related to overexertion while lifting patients and equipment, while another 30% of illnesses are related to exposure to harmful substances including potentially infectious materials such as body fluids. Slip-and-fall accidents, vehicle crashes, and violence account for the third leading cause of injuries and fatalities suffered by EMS workers.

Safety and Prevention

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), EMS workers have a high rate of occupational injuries compared to other workers. Illnesses and injuries result in decreased production, increased days off from work, and a high rate of workers’ compensation claims seen by a work injury lawyer each year. To promote safety and prevent injuries, NIOSH recommends that employers promote safe patient-handling techniques that reduce exertion injuries and protect workers from exposure to hazardous materials. They encourage employers to implement and maintain a comprehensive plan that addresses waste disposal and decontamination procedures to prevent exposure as outlined in OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), ambulance accidents account for at least 2,600 injuries every year, and 60% of those accidents occur during emergency 9-1-1 responses. Emergency responder fatality rates are almost five times higher than the national average for other car crash victims. To reduce accidents and injuries NIOSH recommends seat belts in all ambulances, secured equipment in patient compartments, prohibited use of cell phones by workers, and training for EMS vehicle drivers. They also recommend de-escalation procedures and self-defense training for protection from incidences of violence.

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