Back, leg and psychological injuries common among emergency workers

Front-line emergency workers are three times more likely to be injured on the job that the rest of the Australian workforce combined, new research has found.

Police, fire and ambulance officers face danger every day and an analysis of nine years of workers compensation claims has calculated their risk of injury.

Monash University researcher Dr Shannon Gray said over the study period, about 15 per cent of ambulance officers, 10 per cent of fire and emergency officers, and nine per cent of police had lodged claims.

The risk of claiming was highest among female first responders, and those aged 35 to 44.

“What we really want to highlight is that first responders, the ambulance, fire, police and SES, have got an elevated risk of work injury compared to all other occupations,” Dr Gray told delegates at the 13th Australian Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion Conference at Ballarat’s Mercure Hotel.

“They are at heightened risk for workplace injury given their high exposure to physical and psychological hazards.

“These include heavy lifting, vehicle accidents, physical altercations and exposure to drug or alcohol affected people, extreme temperatures, communicable diseases, chemicals, trauma and violence.”

Ambulance officers had the highest risk of upper body musculoskeletal injuries, including back injuries.

“We can only assume it’s to do with lifting, and patients aren’t always in a nice position that makes it easy to lift correctly,” Dr Gray said.

Fire and other emergency responders had a higher risk for lower body musculoskeletal injuries.

“They’re working in environments where they are not able to see as well and might trip over, they’re around fire, smoke, might step on things and are more likely to have falls,” she said.

Police had the highest risk for developing mental health conditions.

“What is interesting when you look at the burden rate of claim as well as time spent away from work, those figures remained reasonably steady over the nine years for ambulance, fire and emergency but there was a significant increase among police officers,” she said.

Dr Gray said emergency services were working to reduce the injury risk to their members, with ambulance services recording a slowly decreasing incident rate. Figures for fire, emergency and police changed little.