In the United States, emergency medical services together with fire fighters experience the highest rates of injuries and deaths in the workplace.

Research published online in Injury Prevention shows that although fire fighters are more likely to sustain injuries during exercise than whilst putting out fires, the most time off work is due to injuries incurred whilst carrying patients.

Researchers carried out an analysis for injuries sustained at the workplace by evaluating data of 21 fire stations serving the metropolitan area of Tucson, Arizona between 2004 and 2009. The data included information on 650 employees who worked as fire fighters, paramedics, inspectors, battalion chiefs and engineers with the average age of 41 years, 95% of them men.

Researchers discovered that the average annual incidence of new injuries during the study period was 17.7 per 100 employees, most of them aged between 30 to 40 years.

During the study period they found that one third of all injuries were sustained during exercising, even though exercise is designed to keep employees in good physical shape to reduce the risk of injuries during work.

The results showed that one in six, i.e. 17% of injuries occurred whilst transporting patients, whilst just over one in 10 injuries happened during exercise training drills.

After cuts and bruises, the most common type of injuries consisted of sprains and strains, accounting for 40 to 85% of injuries, with 95% of all injuries being of minor nature. Although only one in 10 injuries occurred during firefighting, a greater proportion of these injuries were more serious.

Nearly half of the absences from work were because of strain- and sprain injuries caused during transporting patients. According to the researchers, even though the number of structural fires that needed to be extinguished has steadily decreased since the 70s, fire fighters responsibilities have changed and they are now considered to be first responders for all types of medical emergencies, including acts of terrorism and natural disasters.

84% of all call-outs in 2009 required either basic or advanced life support, with just one in ten call-outs being made to extinguish a fire. The remaining call-outs involved technical rescue activities and other daily responsibilities.

Written by Petra Rattue