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The culture of safety in EMS: Is it time?

Editor's note: A recent survey of EMS agencies from across the country found wide variation in perceptions of workplace safety culture — providing a tool that might point to potential patient safety threats. Our Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh explains why he thinks this study and others like it are crucial to our profession.

A recent survey of perceived safety culture in EMS agencies from across the country is being published at a time where safety in the industry is being looked at more closely than ever before.

As the first attempt to take an in-depth look at our perception of how safe our workplaces are, it uses assessment tools that are adapted from other health care industries such as intensive care units, which in turn was developed from a flight crew safety questionnaire.

While the perception of the respondents varied widely, there were a few correlations noted by the researchers, including the size of the EMS agency and the number of calls it ran.

Overall, EMS providers working in the air medical sector had the highest perception of safety, as compared to ground-based services. There was also a large skew in the geographical location of the respondents, with many coming from one state. The authors caution against making any generalizations to the overall industry.

The study comes out of the University of Pittsburgh, and there are two websites that have more information: http://www.emssafetyculture.org and http://www.emsarn.org.

I believe that this study may be the tip of the iceberg that can help us better explore what is happening in our profession. It's crucial we gain a better understanding; our livelihood — and lives — are literally at stake.

I've said it before; EMS is a hazardous profession. We don't help matters when we take unnecessary risks, such as driving lights and siren to a noncritical event, or flying patients who gain no benefit in doing so.

I know that I am preaching to the choir, meaning you — the fact that you are reading stories on this website implies that you are at least somewhat interested in what's going on in the EMS world around you, right? If so, you and I along with the others who have an interest in EMS have a obligation to let others know their actions have a significant impact to their health and welfare.

A lassez-faire attitude in safety is dangerous. Please don't subscribe to it. I'd like to think you'll be back here tomorrow.

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