EMS workers are at a higher risk of injuries and fatalities than other employees in many other professions. The CDC estimates that EMS providers have a 2.5 times higher fatality rate compared to other occupations. Besides struggling with the instant pain of an injury, these workers may be forced to miss work and reduce their non-work-related activities.
Impacts of Long-Term Injuries on EMS Workers and the Entire EMS Workforce
Injuries with long-term effects, including physical disability, severe illness, and chronic pain, can significantly harm an EMS worker. They can result in job or wage loss, strains, psychological problems like anxiety or depression, and unhealthy relationships with loved ones and friends. In addition to the impacts suffered by the injured employee himself or herself, the entire EMS workforce can face declined productivity, insufficient staffing levels, and higher expenses.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts that EMS employees and paramedics will register a 24% increase in demand between 2014 and 2024. As such, preventing injuries to these service providers is a great way to keep the employees and the workforce protected and preserved. The key to preventing injuries is understanding how many are there and what causes those injuries.
The NHTSA’s Department of Emergency Medical Services in partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted a study from July 2014 to July 2020 seeking to understand work-related injuries that EMS workers sustain. In the four years, they sampled and interviewed EMS workers who had visited emergency rooms (ER) for treatment of work-related injuries, including exposures to dangerous chemicals and substances. The data was subjected to statistical adjustments to generate national estimations of the number of EMS workers visiting ERs for workplace injuries.
The Number of EMS Workers Injured Per Year
About 22,000 full-time, career and volunteer EMS providers visited the emergency room every year for injuries sustained at work. EMS providers had a four times higher rate of injuries treated in the ER compared to the rate for all employees. These numbers are, of course, limited to EMS personnel seeking treatments in ERs only.
Categories of EMS Workers that Are More Prone to Work-Related Injuries
Full-time, career EMS providers accounted for three-quarters of all the injuries recorded in the four-year study. Part-time, career employees accounted for an extra 10% of the work-related injuries. Career employees had more injuries compared to their volunteer counterparts because they spent more time providing medical care in the field.
Over 40% of injured EMS providers were aged from 18 to 19 years. The simple explanation for this is that younger workers are the majority in the EMS workforce. Likewise, over half of the injured workers had worked for less than 10 years. With males representing two-thirds of the whole EMS workforce, they accounted for two-thirds of all injuries treated in ERs.
Causes of Injuries Among EMS Personnel
The four-year study identified five main causes of work-related injuries among EMS workers. They include:
EMS workers frequently sought treatment in ERs for body motion injuries due to wrong posture, extreme physical effort, or constant movement. Body motion injuries mostly result in neck and back strains. Most workers with these types of injuries were injured while carrying, transferring, or lifting a patient. Almost half of those involved with patient handling pointed out that the patient was obese, overweight, or too heavy.
Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals and Substances
Exposure to dangerous chemicals and substances was another frequently occurring reason for EMS workers’ visits to ERs. These types of exposures include respiratory secretions, blood, patients coughing, and spitting. Almost all workers indicated wearing gloves during the exposure, but the majority had not put on face shields, masks, or protective gowns.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
The majority of slips, trips, and falls happened when the EMS worker was moving up or down staircases or the roadside. Stepping in and out of an ambulance or stepping on wet surfaces caused other slips, trips, and falls. Almost half of all slips, trips, and falls happened while a worker was lifting, carrying, pulling, or pushing equipment or a patient.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Motor vehicle collisions accounted for two-thirds of all motor vehicle accidents. Other motor vehicle accidents included swerving and sudden stops. They mostly involved ambulances with almost half of EMS providers injured while in the front section and half injured while in the patient section.
Providers in the front section had a higher likelihood of wearing a seatbelt compared to their counterparts in the patient section. In around 75% of all motor vehicle accidents, the ambulance was not using lights and sirens. Moreover, only a few EMS providers had detected vehicle, road, lighting, or weather issues that may have caused the accident.
Violence and Assaults
The study identified a few injuries associated with violence and assaults. It, however, focused on injuries that led the injured worker to visit the ER. There are possibly many more cases of violence against EMS employees that don’t necessarily lead to a physical injury requiring instant medical care. In most cases, a patient was the perpetrator and almost half of the perpetrators seemed to be intoxicated.
The Bottom Line
EMS workers have a high risk of injuries than workers in almost all other occupations. EMS employers can significantly reduce injuries by offering workers the necessary training and tools they need to do their job safely and by adopting well-thought-out policies and practices. EMS workers should pay attention to their safety by talking about safety concerns and taking advantage of the available safety equipment and resources.