NIOSHTIC-2 No. 20021775

The Safety and Health of Emergency Workers

September 2001

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Emergency personnel, like all workers, carry out their duties within an environment composed of a set of discrete elements. First, there is the emergency itself. Whether a forest fire in France, a tornado in the American Midwest, or a mining disaster in Russia, the emergency imposes certain exigencies upon the responders. Second, a social structure exists with specific social units, rules, and forms of association. An emergency response, therefore, takes place within a context of prescribed behaviors, expectations, and value judgments that are sometimes in conflict with each other. Third, there is a technology that must be understood in order to accomplish group goals. If the technology itself is implicated in the emergency, the entire emergency environment may be impacted. Clearly, a breakdown in any of these elements could result in worker injury and might heighten responder stress. This paper discusses how emergency workers not only get injured but may come to experience burn-out, post-traumatic stress syndrome, or impaired work and family relationships, even though their normal work setting (the emergency) is expected to be 'abnormal'. The authors suggest areas in each of the three environmental elements that deserve further inquiry.

Author(s):Kowalski-KM, Vaught-C
Reference:J Contingencies Crisis Manag 2001 Sep 9(3):138-143

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Page last updated: September 17, 2008
Content Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Mining Division