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5 Ergonomic Best Practices for Emergency First Responders

March 4, 2019
June 21, 2023
first responder standing in front of ambulance

First responders are true heroes, consistently placing themselves second when it comes to serving the emergency needs of their communities. For paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMT) injuries can be an all too common occurrence and the statistics show why.

An Ohio State University study found 8.1 out of 100 EMS responders suffer an injury compared to just 1.3 out of 100 municipal and general labor workers in any given year. Even though this data is startling it does not quite paint the whole picture of the dangerous environments (e.g. burning buildings, active crime scenes) these professionals experience on a consistent basis.

Due to the nature of their work, emergency medical professionals cannot allow injuries to result in missed work days, as this places strain on municipal resources to serve those in need. By looking into the most common injuries for paramedics and EMTs we can begin to formulate strategies to keep our heroes on the road and saving lives, which they proudly do each and every day.

Most Common Injuries for Emergency Medical Professionals

First, let's take a look at the most common injuries to emergency medical professionals using data from a CDC study conducted from 2010 to 2014.

Body Motion

Body motion injuries, better categorized as biomechanic ergonomic-related injuries, made up the highest amount of injuries, coming in at 28%. Awkward posture and repetitive motions were the most common injury events. Half of the providers with body motion injuries missed one or more days of work.

Slips, Trips & Falls

Slips, trips, and falls accounted for 16% of all reported injuries for emergency medical professionals. These injuries can occur in multiple areas from commercial buildings, residential homes, and even in or around ambulances. These events lead to sprains and strains which is the most commonly treated injuries for these professionals.

How Can Emergency Medical Professionals Lower Risk of Ergonomic Injuries?

Watch Your Back

Back injuries account for more than 20% of all workplace injuries in the United States. Paramedics and EMTs are especially at risk of back injuries due to their line of work. When lifting a patient or heavy equipment, proper body mechanics is vital. A few quick tips to help EMTs are sizing up your load, ask for lifting assistance if needed, establish a firm footing, engage your core muscles, bend slowly at the knees when lifting, and keep the load close to your body. These quick tips can be the difference between medical professionals staying healthy or risking a long-term back injury that could even be career-ending.  

Hit the Gym

Emergency medical professionals are known to work long, sometimes grueling shifts which can exceed twelve hours. Studies have shown a direct correlation between the number of hours worked and injury rates. For example, professionals who work shifts longer than 12 hours have a 50% higher risk of injury. Fatigue and stress from long hours mixed with maneuvering patients in varying environments can be a recipe for future injury. Emergency medical professionals should make a concerted effort to prepare their bodies through fitness activities to lower the risk of injury during long shifts. From yoga to weight lifting, proper exercise can help significantly lower the risk of ergonomic injuries, and brings the added benefit of decreasing stress from a fast-paced, high-adrenaline job.

Watch Your Step

Injuries can occur in and around the ambulance at any time. Emergency responders while lifting patients can have obscured views which can increase the chance of an injury due to taking a wrong step. Medical professionals should consistently ensure ambulances have proper lighting in on/offloading areas, proper hand holding areas, and ensure pathways in and out of the ambulance are clear of clutter. Emergency responders should also be coached in slip/fall prevention outside of the ambulance. Here it is important to remember to physically check the stability of every railing encountered when onsite, and clear a path in advance. A little housekeeping goes a long way in keeping emergency medical professionals on the job and out there saving lives.

Don't be Awkward

If possible, emergency personnel should make a concerted effort to avoid working in awkward positions. Due to the nature of their work, this cannot always be achieved, but the less awkward positions a worker is in, the less likely they are to sustain an ergonomic injury. Most commonly, awkward postures will occur when a patient is on the ground, in a vehicle, or somewhere in need of extrication. Those are positions that can’t be controlled. In those events it is essential to remember a few keys: brace yourself against an object whenever possible, get firm footing with a wide/long stance, and try to keep elbows slightly bent when reaching. Awkward positions can also include wrists not being in a neutral position, frequent reaching over shoulder height or behind the back, and wrong height in relation to tasks. By limiting these positions, emergency professionals can significantly reduce their risk of ergonomic injuries.

Take a Seat

As stated above, the majority of emergency medical professionals work shifts longer than most normal occupations. One could be quick to overlook an ergonomic risk staring every ambulance driver or passenger straight in the face, their seats. To avoid ergonomic injuries which may take some time to develop, ambulance design is key. A good tip is to have an ergonomic audit of all medical vehicles to ensure paramedics and EMTs are sitting properly, as well as entering/exiting the vehicle in a safe manner. While riding, workers should ensure good posture with the armrest is in proper position, and any seat hazards should be repaired immediately.

Wrapping Up

Emergency medical professionals are heroes without capes that protect our communities at all hours of the day, no matter the conditions. With this being such a high-risk industry for workers, injury loss prevention can go a long way in decreasing the frequency of ergonomic injuries for emergency medical professionals. The quick tips described here can help keep our heroes safe and ready to serve the communities they love so much.


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