Firefighting is undeniably more dangerous than the average profession. Injuries both on the fireground and in training are commonplace – but do they always need to be? Some injuries sustained are unavoidable: they are a direct result of firefighters doing their jobs and protecting the community. Other injuries are easily preventable. Whether through policies and procedures or training adjustments, taking simple steps to avoid firefighter injuries can reduce long-term costs, both fiscally and physically.
What Are the Short- and Long-Term Costs?
The short- and long-term costs of firefighter injuries can be broken up into five key categories. These “costs,” or effects, impact everything from the individual up to the organizational level. Every party involved absorbs some of the costs – and they often have farther reaching consequences than you might guess.
- Personal Cost – Firefighter injuries can be major, life-changing events. A serious injury can impact the individual’s work and home lives. The personal toll cannot be excluded from cost considerations.
- Personal Financial Cost – The firefighter will have to account for loss of income and may even have to pay for a portion of medical costs that the agency does not cover.
- Organizational Cost – The loss of a firefighter impacts the organization as a whole. Specific skills or relationships within the team and the availability of personnel to replace the firefighter are very real costs to the organization.
- Organizational Financial Cost – The financial cost to the organization includes overtime, backfill, worker’s comp and more. Over time and with many injuries, these dollars quickly add up.
- Legal Cost – Legal costs arising from lawsuits can apply to both the individual and the organization. Will the jurisdiction protect you in the case of injury?
A 2017 study, taking both direct and indirect costs into account, found that firefighter injuries cost between $1.6 billion and $5.9 billion each year. This alone should encourage us to consider how we can minimize preventable firefighter injuries.
The Most Common Firefighter Injuries
Understanding what injuries are most often sustained and how is a good first step. In doing so, it’s important not to look solely at the proximate cause. Tracing exposures and incidences back to the root cause leads to higher level change that results in greater safety – both for individual firefighters and the department.
- Overexertion – The most common firefighting injury is overexertion and strain, at almost 30% of all fireground injuries. Overexertion can be prevented by ensuring enough personnel are present and available, and having and enforcing policies that require on-site rehabilitation.
- Fall, Jump, Slip, Trip – This injury category can often be combatted with programs centered around health and wellness for your firefighters, as well as specific training.
- Exposure – Firefighters are regularly exposed to smoke and other chemicals that give them a higher disposition to certain types of cancer. Exposure numbers have increased in recent years, likely due to better reporting and increased awareness. Even so, proper policy, procedure and training can help to mitigate this risk and limit exposure effects.
A 2017 study, taking both direct and indirect costs into account, found that firefighter injuries cost between $1.6 billion and $5.9 billion each year.
While firefighter injuries and injury rates have decreased significantly over the past 40 years, it is imperative to continue to look at preventable incidences that drive up fiscal and physical costs. In addition to after-exposure/injury costs, about 17% of fireground injuries resulted in lost time. Not only are individual firefighters and their agencies affected, the community at large also experiences the negative impact of preventable injuries.
How We Can Improve
Data collection is crucial to determining what injuries are preventable and how to prevent them. Tracking exposures and incidents throughout the careers of firefighters allows correlation to be identified, costs to be quantified and policy/procedural/training solutions to be determined. HR data, worker’s comp information and dispatch data are linked together to create a clear story that pinpoints the root cause of the injuries.
To learn about implementing policies, procedures and training to limit preventable injuries and their associated costs, view our on-demand webinar: The Cost of Firefighter Injuries: Reducing Fiscal and Physical Impact.