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Firefighter tops list of most dangerous jobs

Greenville, Ohio, fire Capt. Chip Fashner injured his shoulder in October while extinguishing a blaze.

Fire protection is one of the most dangerous types of work in the nation. Last year, almost 71,000 injuries to U.S. firefighters occurred in the line of duty, and the rate of nonfatal injury and illness in fire protection was more than three times the rate for all industries, according to government and industry estimates.

"It's just part of the job," Fashner said.

But injuries can occur in any workplace, and there were more than 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses last year.

Manufacturing industries used to be the most dangerous types of work because of the machinery involved, but injuries today frequently occur in occupations that involve repetitive physical tasks, such as bending, lifting and carrying heavy objects.

Nationwide, state-run nursing homes and residential care facilities have the second-highest rate of occupational injuries and illnesses for similar reasons.

Other industries with high frequencies of injuries and illnesses include steel foundries, ice manufacturing, skiing facilities and police protection.

The fishing and logging industries are among the deadliest professions in the United States, but job-related deaths are rare. Far more people are injured or become ill as a result of their jobs.

In 2011, employees in the private sector and local and state government jobs suffered about 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses that did not result in death, according to a national survey by the U.S. Department of Labor. It was the same number as in 2010, and the first time the total number of incidents had not declined since 2002.

Last year, fire protection was the most dangerous type of work. Nationwide, there were about 13.5 nonfatal injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time workers at local fire departments, according to Labor Department data. The incident rate of injury and illness for all industries was 3.8 cases per 100 full-time workers.

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that about 70,090 injuries to firefighters occurred in the line of duty in 2011. In addition, firefighters in thousands of instances were exposed to infectious diseases and hazardous conditions, such as asbestos, radioactive materials, chemicals and fumes.

Battling fires is very hard, physical work, because firefighters must wear about 80 pounds of gear, and they must lift and carry heavy ladders and hoses up staircases or feed them through high windows, said Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, which has 12,000 members.

"You can call firefighters industrial athletes," said Sanders, a lieutenant with the Cincinnati Fire Department.

Firefighters are forced to enter burning structures where there is falling debris that can strike and injure them. Firefighters are also at risk of tripping and falling on staircases or uneven or slippery surfaces while taking rescue or fire-control actions. Smoke inhalation always poses a risk and firefighters can be injured helping escort or carry people out of their homes or buildings.

"The nature of the work is you are running into dangerous situations while other people are running out," said Dayton, Ohio, firefighter Gaye Jordan, president of the Dayton Firefighter's International Association of Fire Fighters Local 136. "And it's a physical job, both on the fire and EMS sides, where some of our patients are bigger, and lifting the cot and lifting patients can strain your back."

Fashner said he has been injured multiple times while on the job as a Greenville firefighter. Both of his knees required surgery for torn meniscus that occurred at emergency scenes.

Most recently, Fashner sprained his shoulder last month while putting out a house fire. Fashner missed a shift at work and four hours of a second shift, but he said firefighters understand that discomfort and pain are part of the job.

"Strains and sprains lead our injuries by far," Fashner said. "In the last few months, we've probably had three lost-time injuries."

Strains, sprains and muscular pain were the most common type of injury to firefighters in 2011, and accounted for more than half of all cases, the National Fire Protection Association said. The most common causes of injury at fire scenes were overexertion and strain (28 percent), and falls, jumps and slips (21 percent).

Firefighters operate in uniquely dangerous work environments that involve flames and smoke. But the injuries they suffer are fairly common.

Injuries in nursing homes, meanwhile, are often tied to moving and transporting uncooperative patients and elderly people with limited mobility, said Abe Al-Tarawneh, superintendent of the division of safety and hygiene at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. Nurses often suffer strains to the back, shoulders or neck from lifting patients, and these injuries can develop into more serious conditions, such as a bulging disks.

"There is more exposure for these type of musculoskeletal injuries in nursing homes than in other places," Al-Tarawneh said.

Al-Tarawneh said many workplaces are getting safer because of new technology and better safety programs and training.

Manufacturing work used to have the highest incident rate of injury and illness in the nation, but computers and machines often have made the jobs safer and less onerous, experts said.

But many jobs have an inherent potential for injury, and injuries will arise even when workers follow strict safety precautions, said Gary Plunkett, an attorney with Hochman & Plunkett, a law firm in Dayton that handles workers' compensation cases.

"People who do physical things for a living will have a certain percentage of accidents that will happen no matter what you do — period," he said. "If you are a nurse or nurse's aide, and you are lifting, carrying and washing people from time to time, there is a risk you will throw out your back and get seriously hurt."

Firefighter tops list of most dangerous jobs 12/15/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 4:53pm]
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