Ergonomics

Health & Safety Academy

Greenville fire Capt. Chip Fashner injured his shoulder in October while extinguishing a blaze.

Fire protection is one of the most dangerous types of work in the nation. Last year, almost 71,000 injuries to U.S. firefighters occurred in the line of duty, and the rate of nonfatal injury and illness in fire protection was more than three times the rate for all industries, according to government and industry estimates.

“It’s just part of the job,” Fashner said. But injuries can occur in any workplace, and there were more than 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses last year. Manufacturing industries used to be the most dangerous types of work because of the machinery involved, but injuries today frequently occur in occupations that involve repetitive physical tasks, such as bending, lifting and carrying heavy objects.

In Ohio, nursing home workers account for the largest number of serious workers’ compensation claims in the private sector, largely because employees must lift and move disabled, uncooperative and elderly patients. Other industries with high frequencies of injuries and illnesses include steel foundries, ice manufacturing, skiing facilities and police protection.

Job-related deaths are rare. Far more people are injured or become ill as a result of their jobs. Last year, fire protection was the most dangerous type of work. Nationwide, there were about 13.5 nonfatal injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time workers at local fire departments, according to labor department data. The incident rate of injury and illness for all industries was 3.8 cases per 100 full-time workers.

Battling fires is very hard, physical work, because firefighters must wear about 80 pounds of gear, and they must lift and carry heavy ladders and hoses up staircases or feed them through high windows, said Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, which has 12,000 members.

It’s a physical job, both on the fire and EMS sides, where some of our patients are bigger, and lifting the cot and lifting patients can strain your back.” Most recently, Fashner sprained his shoulder last month while putting out a house fire. Fashner missed a shift at work and four hours of a second shift, but he said firefighters understand that discomfort and pain are part of the job.
“Strains and sprains lead our injuries by far,” Fashner said. “In the last few months, we’ve probably had three lost-time injuries.”

Strains, sprains and muscular pain were the most common type of injury to firefighters in 2011, and accounted for more than half of all cases, the National Fire Protection Association said. The most common causes of injury at fire scenes were overexertion and strain (28 percent), and falls, jumps and slips (21 percent).

In Ohio, sprains and strains account for about 40 percent of injuries that result in workers’ compensation claims, according to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
And the frequency rate of injuries and illness in fire protection is just slightly higher than in state-run nursing homes and residential care facilities, according to labor department data. The rate of injury and illness in that part of the nursing industry nationwide is about 13.1 cases per 100 full-time workers.

In 2010, employees in private nursing homes in Ohio accounted for about 591 lost-time workers’ compensation claims, more than any other private industry, according to the most recent state data. Lost-time claims are when employees are off from work for at least eight days.
Injuries in nursing homes are often tied to moving and transporting patients and elderly people with limited mobility. Nurses often suffer strains to the back, shoulders or neck from lifting patients and these injuries can develop into more serious conditions, such as a bulging disks.

“There is more exposure for these types of musculoskeletal injuries in nursing homes than in other places.” Many workplaces are getting safer because of new technology and better training.

But many jobs have an inherent potential for injury, and injuries will arise even when workers follow strict safety precautions, said Gary Plunkett, an attorney with Hochman & Plunkett, a law firm in Dayton that handles workers’ compensation cases.

“People who do physical things for a living will have a certain percentage of accidents that will happen no matter what you do — period.” “If you are a nurse or nurse’s aide and you are lifting, carrying and washing people from time to time, there is a risk you will throw out your back and get seriously hurt.”

Health & Safety Tip of the Week

How to Lift Correctly. Sign Up

How Can We Help?