Provider Safety

5 causes of high injury rate in EMS providers

NIOSH and NHTSA collaborated to use emergency department visit data to identify the five primary types of injury events experienced by EMS providers

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By Audrey A. Reichard, Gamunu U. Wijetunge, Suzanne M. Marsh, Srinivas Konda

EMS personnel experience injuries at a higher rate than workers in many other occupations. In addition to suffering the immediate pain of an injury, personnel may lose time at work and be forced to limit activities outside of work.

Injuries with long-term effects, such as chronic pain or physical disability, can have more serious impacts on the worker. These impacts can include wage or job loss, strains on relationships with family and friends and psychological issues such as depression or anxiety. Beyond the effects faced by the injured worker themselves, the workforce can suffer from decreased productivity, inadequate staffing levels and other increased costs.

The injury risk to EMS personnel is high. (Courtesy photo)
The injury risk to EMS personnel is high. (Courtesy photo)

With the Occupational Outlook Handbook projecting that the demand for EMTs and paramedics will increase 24 percent from 2014-2024, it is vital that injuries to workers be prevented to protect and preserve the workers and the workforce. However, you can’t prevent what you don’t understand. Therefore, the first step in being able to prevent injuries is to know how many there are and what is causing them.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Emergency Medical Services joined forces with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in an effort to understand work-related injuries occurring to EMS personnel. They interviewed a sample of EMS personnel treated in emergency departments for work-related injuries during a four-year period (July 2010 through June 2014). These injuries included exposures to harmful substances. The data were weighted in order to produce national estimates of the number of EMS personnel treated in EDs for work-related injuries.

How many EMS personnel are injured each year?

On average, 22,000 career and volunteer EMS personnel visited emergency departments each year for work-related injuries. The rate of injuries among career EMS personnel treated in the ED was more than four times higher than the rate for all workers.

Of course, there are more EMS personnel that seek care at other places or even self-treat, therefore there is no way to count every injury. Because we relied on data readily available to us to describe the injury risks to EMS personnel, we recognize that we are only providing one piece of the bigger picture.

Who is being injured in EMS?

Three-quarters of injured workers were full-time, career EMS workers and an additional 10 percent were part-time, career workers. The fact that career workers had more injuries than volunteers may simply reflect that they spent more time in the field.

With younger workers outnumbering older workers in the EMS workforce, it follows that more than 40 percent of injured workers were between 18 and 29 years-old. Similarly, more than half of injured EMS personnel had less than 10 years’ of experience. Two-thirds of injuries occurred to male EMS personnel who represent about two-thirds of the workforce. Thus, males and females were equally likely to sustain an injury.

How are the injuries happening?

This study identified five primary types of injury events. Each event is detailed below along with scenarios described by injured EMS personnel, with some modifications to protect confidentiality.

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