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November 2, 2011

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Emergency workers face growing risks in a changing world

Emergency-services workers should be better protected against occupational hazards, particularly in light of current environmental, economic and political developments, which suggest an increase in the number and severity of events in which such workers may be involved.

This is the conclusion of a recent report from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), which says emergency workers account for “a significant proportion” of the European workforce. Their priorities are to protect human life, property and the environment and they are typically involved in everyday emergencies such as road accidents and fires, as well as natural disasters, industrial accidents, and terrorist/criminal attacks.

Given the variety and inherently hazardous nature of the situations in which they work, the report emphasises that the level of risk faced by emergency workers is very wide.  It can be especially high when management and preparedness are poor, and there is a lack of, or insufficient coordination, information and communication, training, and safety equipment.

The report discusses both general and specific hazards that emergency workers can face and provides a wealth of data from various European countries on deaths, injuries and ill health among the likes of fire-fighters and medical workers. It also suggests preventive measures that can be taken at employer level to minimise the risks to such workers.

A PDF version of Emergency Services: A literature review on Occupational Safety and Health Risks can be downloaded from the European Agency website.

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