Administration and Leadership, Ambulances & Vehicle Ops, Columns

How Safe Is Your Organization?

Every month we read about EMTs and paramedics who are injured or killed while working on the job. Sometimes, EMS personnel are injured or killed when the vehicle in which they re riding to a call becomes involved in a crash. An EMS worker could be killed while on scene at a domestic violence call. In some cases, the EMS provider who did something stupid or recklessness with knowledge that what they were doing could hurt them, their partner or someone else is clearly at fault. Often the culture of the organization is lacking in personal responsibility for individual or patient safety.

However, in most cases, I would speculate that the organization failed to train employees in safety precautions and enforce safety protocols to protect the employee from themselves, their coworkers, the public and dangerous situations.

How does that failure manifest? Primarily through four areas:

A lack of policies and procedures. One of the hardest tasks an agency has is to develop and implement policies and procedures. Specifically, to develop those safety procedures that protect the employees and help keep them as safe as possible while working. Do the employees understand the importance of each policy or procedure? Most importantly, do they follow them?

No formal training on safety procedures when implemented. When you implement a new safety procedure, does every employee receive education and training on every aspect of the procedure? When a new employee starts, are they provided with safety training on all aspects of your organization? It is often assumed that employees know how to be safe in all aspects of providing emergency medical care to patients. Although they may know the aspects of personal protective equipment, like wearing gloves or goggles, they often lack specific training on situational safety awareness or emergency driving.

Failure to implement a proactive approach to preventing injuries. Safety policies or procedures are often developed or implemented after the occurrence of a significant event where someone is injured or killed. Then there is a scramble to fill in the gaps in policy development and training to prevent that event, or a similar event from occurring again. Progressive agencies consider those areas where their employees or the public could be injured and work to develop procedures designed to prevent the injury. This needs to be an ongoing process.

A lack of enforcement from management when the employees operate in an unsafe or reckless manner. In most cases, it is not actually an act of permission as much as it is a lack of action that allows employees while at work to operate in an unsafe manner. Employees who perform unsafe acts or disregard safety policies and procedures with the knowledge of their supervisor become conditioned to continue to operate in that manner. Supervisors who fail to correct employees who fail to follow safety procedures are as wrong as the employee who commits the action.

Example: Evidence clearly shows that wearing a seatbelt in a personal auto saves lives during a crash and that should induce departments to require the use of seatbelts in an emergency vehicle.

Answer this checklist (Yes or No):

  • Does your organization have a policy that employees will wear a seatbelt when riding in the ambulance?
  • Is the policy specific to both emergency calls and when not responding to calls?
  • Has every employee been educated and trained on the policy? Do they understand the importance of wearing a seatbelt?
  • Is there a record of the training and documentation showing when each employee received the training?
  • Does the policy outline the guidelines for disciplinary action in the event the policy is not followed?

Regarding disciplinary action, if a supervisor witnesses the unsafe act of an employee riding in an ambulance without wearing a seatbelt while responding to an emergency call and then doesn t take some form of corrective action against the employee not wearing the seatbelt and against the driver for responding with an un-seatbelted passenger then the supervisor is just as wrong as the two employees who used poor judgment.

Safety within an organization needs to be ingrained into the culture from the first day a new employee starts and get enforced every day. Supervisors have to make sure that all safety procedures are followed in every situation. Every employee has to play an active role in protecting themselves and their coworkers and patients. Safety is everyone s responsibility and management should make it a priority to see that everyone goes home at the end of their shift.