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Home > Topics > Safety
December 17, 2013
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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

EMS is more dangerous than police work

Control the factors you can — like your physical fitness — because other factors loom

By Arthur Hsieh

On-the-job illness and injury rates continue to be much greater for us (4.5 percent) than for most occupations, including firefighters (1.1 percent) and police officers (3.2 percent). This is despite advances in technology and a greater awareness of the hazards.

The latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report reflects my personal experiences. I know of a few former colleagues who are permanently disabled from the job. But I also know of many more who go to work every day with chronic shoulder, knee or back pain. There are many days where my shoulders are aching from morning to night. I attribute that from years of two-person gurney lifts (and continuous hours in front of a keyboard).

There are a few things we can work on to keep ourselves healthy. 

  • Get healthy, and stay that way. Yes, it takes more energy to make lunch and dinner at home, or go shopping and cook at the station. But you control what you eat. That’s key to weight management — not to mention wallet management (eating out is expensive!).
  • Keep your core muscles in shape. You don’t need to go to the gym; there are simple exercises that EMS1 columnist Bryan Fass has written about before that help to keep your abdominal and lower back muscles strong.
  • Cardiovascular health is also key. Ours is an endurance job.
  • Stretch and remain limber while working. Take a few seconds to make sure your body is ready to lift and move.
  • Most emergencies aren’t. Don’t rush the lifting and moving. The faster you move, the more likely you’ll catch your body off guard — and get hurt.

I know, you have heard most of these tips, but do you pay attention to them? This isn’t for the next person — it’s for you, my friend.

What can we advocate for in our industry?

  • Lower loading decks. Some of these monster trucks we call ambulances really suck at keep our backs and shoulders safe.
  • Stop carrying unnecessarily. That’s equipment and patients. 
  • Implement safe carrying policies. Many hands make light work, as the saying goes. There’s nothing more irritating to see one person muscling the gurney into the ambulance while the other person watches.
  • Change the ambulance configuration. There are moves afoot for that to happen. Bench seats are so 1960s. Replace them with seats that keep us ergonomically safe, and protect us better in a crash.

What are you doing to keep yourself from getting hurt on the job?

About the author

EMS1 Editor in Chief Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. In the profession since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a published textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at a rural hospital-based ALS system. Contact Art at
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