Introduction: Emergency medical services personnel treat 22 million patients a year, yet little is known of their risk of injury and fatality.
Problem: Work-related injury and fatality rates among US paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are higher than the national average for all occupations.
Methods: Data collected by the Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics were reviewed to identify injuries and fatalities among EMTs and paramedics from 2003 through 2007. The characteristics of fatal injuries are described and the rates and relative risks of the non-fatal injuries were calculated and compared to the national average.
Results: Of the 21,749 reported cases, 21,690 involved non-fatal injuries or illnesses that resulted in lost work days among EMTs and paramedics within the private sector. Of the injuries, 3,710 (17%) resulted in ≥31 days of lost work time. A total of 14,470 cases (67%) involved sprains or strains; back injury was reported in 9,290 of the cases (43%); and the patient was listed as the source of injury in 7,960 (37%) cases. The most common events were overexertion (12,146, 56%), falls (2,169, 10%), and transportation-related (1,940, 9%). A total of 530 assaults were reported during the study period. Forty-five percent of the cases occurred among females (females accounted for 27% of employment in this occupation during 2007). In 2007, EMTs and paramedics suffered 349.9 injuries with days away from work per 10,000 full-time workers, compared to an average of 122.2 for all private industry occupations (Relative risk = 2.9; 95% CI: 2.7-3.0). During the study period, 59 fatalities occurred among EMTs and paramedics in both the private industry and in the public sector. Of those fatalities, 51 (86%) were transportation-related and five (8%) were assaults; 33 (56%) were classified as "multiple traumatic injuries."
Conclusions: Data from the DOL show that EMTs and paramedics have a rate of injury that is about three times the national average for all occupations. The vast majority of fatalities are secondary to transportation related-incidents. Assaults are also identified as a significant cause of fatality. The findings also indicate that females in this occupational group may have a disproportionately larger number of injuries. Support is recommended for further research related to causal factors and for the development, evaluation and promulgation of evidence-based interventions to mitigate this problem.