'Culture of safety' needed to reduce LODDs

By FireRescue1 staff (2/8/08)

STILLWATER, Okla - Fire chiefs should work to create a department culture of safety, rather than risk, to reduce LODDs (LODD = line of duty death), according to a new report. The study by Oklahoma State University features best practices based on research conducted over the last two years. It was funded by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Public Entity Risk Institute.

The document promotes the idea that leadership and management can reduce risks to firefighters. "The current U.S. fire service culture must change and place a higher value on personnel safety in order to achieve the goal of reducing firefighter deaths and injuries," it said. "This shift in values can only be achieved through leadership."

The report recommends best practices culled from U.S. and UK expert panels and NIOSH reports for minimizing risk. These range from ensuring that all firefighters are equipped with properly functioning radios, to appointing an incident safety officer to widely disseminating analysis of previous safety events.

The recommendations address specific areas such as structure fires, vehicle safety, wildland firefighting and training. The findings encourage fire chiefs to take steps before incidents occur to ensure that employees are aware of risks and best practices for safety. The report also provides concrete examples of what company officers can say and do to encourage this behavior.

Throughout, the study stresses the role of the company officer and seeks to introduce the concept of "organizational safety culture" to the American fire service. "Our research shows that the company officer plays THE critical role in defining on a day-to-day basis the nature of the organizational safety culture in a fire department," the study said. In its conclusion, the study said fire departments face a tough task in changing the culture of both itself and its members.

"Those who choose to embark on the effort to change the identity of their organization, and to begin to change the identity of the fire service, will face a highly emotional and defensive response," it said. "They will have to rely on the same bravery and courage that they have demonstrated on the fireground in order to survive the challenges involved in a transformational change of identity in the fire service."

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