It seems like every day we read about another EMS practitioner who’s been hurt or killed in the line of duty. One day it’s an EMT who’s been struck by a passing car while working a highway crash; another day, a paramedic is assaulted while trying to help care for a sick child; and all too often, a first responder dies from a heart attack following a seemingly routine call. Our safety, and the safety of those with whom we work, is not automatic. We need to take action ourselves to make sure we go home at the end of the shift.
To help you and your EMS service improve safety on the job, and to help build a “Culture of Safety” within our profession, please use and share the following tips that can help keep us alive and well so that we can truly enjoy the job we love.
- Communicate: Not just with your patients, but with the other members or your crew. You need to speak up when you see something that doesn’t seem right, even if it means questioning the actions of a more senior member. Poor communication causes mistakes, and mistakes cause accidents.
- Maintain situation awareness: When working in the roadway, be sure to wear the appropriate vest and keep an eye on oncoming traffic.
- Take care of your tools: Your vehicle is your living. Respect it, and take care of it. Don’t “pencil whip” the checklist, and respond aggressively to any safety concerns. The same goes for the many battery-powered devices you use. Remember that the most common cause of battery failures is lack of proper maintenance.
- Drive like a professional: We spend hours refreshing and updating our medical knowledge and skills, yet we spend little or no time examining our driving habits. Driving under emergency conditions is half of our job, and we need to be as good at that as we are at doing a patient assessment. And texting while driving is an absolute no-no!
- Watch your back: In this case, that means knowing how to lift safely, and making sure you have enough help to keep from hurting your back. The sad fact is that one out of every four EMS workers will suffer a career-ending back injury within the first four years of service. We can do better than that.
- Protect yourself from violence: Remember that patients, relatives or crowds can become difficult if they don’t understand why you’re not moving toward the hospital. If verbal de-escalation doesn’t work and things look like they’re going to turn ugly, get out as soon as you can.
- Take care of your body: It’s difficult to eat properly while you’re working on an ambulance, but planning ahead can help you avoid the need to exist on junk food. Many of us have to work more than one job to make a decent living, but make sure you get enough rest. When you’re overtired, you’re not only more likely to make mistakes, but also to get injured. And remember, you CAN do simple exercises and stretches while on duty to keep from getting hurt.
Want to learn more about how you can survive and thrive in an EMS career? Consider taking the new EMS Safety Course offered by NAEMT. For more information, click here