PPE use and unsafe actions by firefighters

Posted: Sept. 28, 2017

What causes firefighters to take unsafe actions related to personal protective equipment (PPE) use — even though they know they should be doing the opposite? A team of researchers led by Drexel University’s Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends recently set out to understand why this occurs and what the fire service can do to fix it.1

firefighters wearing PPE
I mean, we’re firemen, we don’t like to be known as being overly safe I guess.
— Research focus group participant

Firefighters are at increased risk of toxic exposures through inhalation of particulate matter, carcinogenic products and gases. Despite recognition of these risks, it is not uncommon for firefighters to ignore PPE policies, such as not removing self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) during overhaul. Firefighters know how to do their job safely but they sometimes choose not to engage in safety behaviors. Why?

Research takeaways

Barriers to PPE use

…when I first started working within the fire department,…I put my new turn-outs on, and they were like, … we’ve gotta get you into a fire and get your turn-outs all dirty, because you look brand new.
— Research focus group participant (on how the appearance of clean gear represents inexperience)

Researchers found the leading reasons for PPE non-compliance were:

Ways to PPE empowerment

Training and safety officers and department leaders are encouraged to read the complete research article to better understand when PPE use is practiced and neglected and to apply this knowledge to improving their department’s safety culture.

See also: National Safety Culture Change Initiative PDF 896 KB

1 Maglio, M. A., Scott, C., Davis, A. L., Allen, J., & Taylor, J. A. (2016). Situational Pressures that Influence Firefighters Decision-Making about Personal Protective Equipment: A Qualitative Analysis. American Journal of Health Behavior, 40(5), 555-567. doi:10.5993/ajhb.40.5.2

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As such, the content does not reflect any official positions, policies, or guidelines on behalf of the sender, the U.S. Fire Administration, FEMA, DHS, nor any other federal agencies, departments or contracting entities. Similarly, this summary does not represent in any manner an official endorsement or relationship to any private or public companies, organizations/associations, or any authors or individuals cited or websites associated within the article.

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