California firefighters benefit from safety regulations

Readers of this California workers’ compensation blog have heard about various workplace incidents, possibly caused by an employer’s failure to comply with safety regulations and standards established by the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Yet those safety guidelines also apply to jobs without a permanent workplace, or perhaps a constantly moving one, as in the case of rescue workers.

According to federal OSHA data, tragedies in confined spaces -- areas where workers are not expected to have a continuous presence, such as vaults, bins, manholes, or restricted entrances -- often comprise a disproportionate number of rescue workers, especially when the body count involves multiple victims. Another federal agency also estimates rescue workers to make up more than 60 percent of fatal injuries in confined spaces.

Firefighters, in particular, often find themselves working in confined spaces. Sometimes their work involves rescuing trapped individuals. Other times, it may involve minimizing a hazard in a confined space. OSHA regulations for this type of work may apply to the type of training and equipment firefighters are expected to have to address such emergency situations.

Federal and local safety initiatives may be working. According to federal data, the number of firefighter fatalities has been greatly reduced since the 1980s, when regulators began overhauling safety reforms. Although workers’ compensation benefits may provide for medical care and lost wages to employees injured on the job, firefighters often sustain life-threatening injuries. With the cooperation of employers, however, safety reforms may continue to make this potentially dangerous line of work even safer for the brave men and women who comprise the state’s firefighting force.

Source: slate.com, “Don’t Be a Dead Hero,” Bryce Hall, May 27, 2013

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