Introduction: Workers in first responder (FR) occupations are at heightened risk for workplace injury given their exposure to physical/psychological hazards. This study sought to (1) characterise the occupational risk of injury; (2) determine factors associated with injury; and (3) characterise the burden of injury-related disability in police, ambulance officers, fire/emergency workers, compared with other occupations.
Methods: A retrospective cohort of 2,439,624 claims occurring between July 2003 and June 2012 was extracted from the Australian National Dataset for Compensation-Based Statistics. Cases aged 16-75 years working 1-100 pre-injury hours per week were included. Regression models estimated risk of making a workers' compensation (WC) claim by age, gender, occupation and injury type. Injury burden was calculated using count and time loss, and statistically compared between groups.
Results: The risk of making a WC claim among FR occupations was more than 3 times higher than other occupations. Risk of claiming was highest among female FRs and those aged 35-44 years. Ambulance officers had the greatest risk of upper-body MSK injuries and fire and emergency workers the greatest risk of lower-body MSK injuries. The risk of mental health conditions was elevated for all FR occupations but highest among police officers. The total burden of injury (expressed as working weeks lost per 1000 workers) differed significantly between groups and was highest amongst police.
Discussion and conclusions: First responders record significantly higher rates of occupational injury claims than other occupations. Using a national population based dataset, this study demonstrates that not only are first responders exposed to significantly higher rates of occupational injury than all other occupations combined, but they experience differential injury patterns depending on their occupation. This suggests that among FR occupations injury prevention efforts should reflect these differences and be targeted to occupation-specific patterns of injury.
Keywords: Ambulance; Compensation; Emergency services; Injury; Occupational health; Policy.
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