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Firefighter Deaths Lower in 2017

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Deaths among career and volunteer firefighters continued to be low in 2017 with both at the second lowest level since 1977, when the NFPA study began. There were 60 on-duty firefighter fatalities across the nation in 2017. Of these deaths, 21 were career firefighters and 32 were volunteers. The seven remaining deaths were employees or contractors of federal land management agencies. Sudden cardiac death accounted for the largest share of fatalities with 29 deaths. 

There were 17 deaths at fire scenes (9 structure fires and 8 wildland fires). NFPA also reported that an unusually high number of firefighters (10) were struck and killed by vehicles. Two firefighters were killed and another injured by a drunk driver at the scene of downed power lines.

For more detailed information, visit NFPA.org.
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Is Your Rescue Team Ready?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Guidance for improving and maintaining rescue team proficiency...

We all want to succeed, no matter what we are doing. And success is always better than the alternatives…whether a mediocre performance or worse yet, failure. When it comes to rescue, all of a sudden, the difference between success and failure takes on much greater significance.Not only are the lives of the rescue subjects held in the balance, but also the rescuers. Multiple risks are involved with technical rescue and failure may cost the rescuers mightily, and this has been proven too many times. There are many things, however, that rescuers can do to help improve their chances of success, and that's what we will talk about here. 

We have found that the one thing that seems to be a lagging factor is a "lack of proficiency" in performing the required skills either as individuals or as a team. Having rescue preplans, the newest and best equipment, sufficient manning, and reliable communications are all pieces of the puzzle. But all of that becomes nothing more than window-dressing if the team or individuals on the team are unable to perform their duties safely and effectively. This is such an important consideration that several regulations and standards make a point to remind us that proficiency is a high-interest issue. 

For instance, OSHA 1910.146 paragraph K and Appendix F, as well as 1926.1211, require designated rescuers to practice making permit space rescues at least once every 12 months by means of simulated rescue operations in which they remove dummies, manikins, or actual persons from the actual permit spaces or from representative permit spaces. It is our position that this does not even come close to the training time needed to maintain an appropriate level of proficiency. 

Additionally, NFPA 1006 requires rescuers to demonstrate competency on an annual basis. One of NFPA’s recommendations is to attend workshops and seminars, read professional publications, and participate in refresher training as ways technical rescue personnel can update their knowledge and skills. 

I am routinely asked how often a rescue team should practice. And they're always a bit surprised when I do not give them a hard and fast answer such as quarterly or monthly for a minimum of 4 hours. My answer is and will always be, “as often as it takes to ensure you are proficient, as individuals and as a team, to safely and effectively rescue potential victims from any situation you may be called to respond.”

You would be amazed at the spectrum of training schedules that are out there. Some teams practice on a bi-weekly basis and mix in different scenarios to ensure they will not miss any opportunities to improve their skills or to identify any gaps they may have in technique or equipment. Whereas other teams may feel that once a year is all that they need. Knowing how perishable these skills are, we tend to disagree.

It has been our experience that the teams who practice on a very regular basis and really mix it up when they design their training scenarios are the ones who perform best when they come to our facility or we go to theirs for a team performance evaluation (TPE), which can also include an individual performance evaluation (IPE), if desired. The teams and individuals that struggle most during our TPE/IPE visits are the ones that seldom train. And, even though we all call these TPE/IPE visits, we do provide tips and spot training to help correct any deficiencies observed. 

But frequency is no guarantee of excellent performance. It isn’t just about the quantity of training; it must be the quality of training as well. One of the best ways to supplement in-house training is to attend third party refresher training. Or, if it has been a while since a full-on training class, by all means a more extensive and complete training package may be a great option. Roco's annual Rescue Challenge provides an excellent learning experience as well as a way to confirm the true rescue capabilities of your team. 

Technical rescue skills are one of the most perishable skills I have known. Without regular practice and quality training, it is not long before the individual and team skills erode to the point of becoming a liability to the victim and to other team members.

Again, none of us wants to fail - especially on a rescue mission. A good way to avoid this is to dedicate adequate resources to training along with regular refreshers and practice drills. Prepare and practice for your "worst case" scenarios because you just never know when your team may be put to the test. Be ready!

Written by Pat Furr, VPP Coordinator for Roco Rescue, Inc.

About the Author:
Pat Furr has been employed with Roco since 2000 and has been actively involved with technical rescue since 1981. Pat is a Chief Instructor for Roco as well as its VPP Coordinator and Safety Officer. He is also a presenter at national conferences such as ASSE and VPPPA. Prior to Roco, Pat served 20 years in the USAF as a Pararescueman (PJ). His background includes eight years as a member of the 71st Pararescue team in Anchorage, Alaska, where he specialized in mountain and glacier rescue. Pat was a team leader of the 1986 and 1988 PJ teams that summited Mt. McKinley and augmented the National Park Service mountain rescue team. He also spent two tours of duty in Iceland where he put in multiple “first ascent” ice routes.


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OSHA-1926 Dockside Rescue Requirements

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Roco now offers marine rescue standby services for the Baton Rouge-New Orleans industrial corridor. As with other Roco services, our personnel are experienced emergency responders trained to provide lifesaving skills when it matters most.

All Roco marine standby personnel are First Responder/ CPR/First Aid trained, and most are EMT’s. Our boats are fully equipped with First Aid kits, AEDs and O2 for prompt emergency care.

For construction work over or near waterways, OSHA 1926.106 requires certain safety precautions – including the timely response of a boat to rescue a fallen worker. In fact, according to one OSHA LOI, the retrieval of an employee from the water is required no more than 3 to 4 minutes from the time they entered the water. And, depending on hazards present, it could be required even sooner.

Section 1926.106(d) states:
At least one lifesaving skiff shall be immediately available at locations where employees are working over or adjacent to water.

The intent of the paragraph is to ensure prompt rescue of employees that fall into the water, regardless of other precautions taken to prevent this from occurring. Thus, OSHA requires that employers supply a skiff to affect a prompt water rescue. As a skiff supplies a backup to potential failures of fall protection devices, the use of fall protection systems is not a substitute for the skiff.

The requirement in 1926.106(d) addresses the hazard of falls that may occur in the event of a failure of the operation of fall protection devices or a lapse in their use. An employer is also required to comply with all other applicable standards including, but not limited to, the requirements that an injured employee be treated by medical personnel or an employee certified in first aid within 3 to 4 minutes from the time the injury occurred. This could mean that first aid treatment would have to begin in the lifesaving skiff or boat.

For more information on this service, please contact Roco at 800-647-7626 or email info@rocorescue.com.

Resources: OSHA 1926.106 as well as Letters of Interpretation (LOI’s) dated 8/23/04; 12/5/03; 12/6/91; and 06/13/90.

NOTE:  In this article, Roco cites OSHA 1926.106 which applies to construction activities while working over or near water. For other industries such as shipyard (Part 1915), marine terminals (Part 1917), or longshoring (Part 1918), please refer to those standards for specific requirements, particularly for PFDs and rescue skiffs. OSHA does not require rescue skiffs for all industry activities. However, keep in mind, OSHA sets minimum standards. And, remember, there’s a safe way and a safer way!

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Why Use a High-Point Dorsal Connection Point?

Friday, July 06, 2018

We recently had a Facebook inquiry about attaching a rappeler's belay line (safety line) to their high-point dorsal connection on their harness. We choose to do this for a number of reasons including: (a) compliance with applicable regulations; (b) adherence to safe and practical rescue procedures; and, (c) the physiological effects of falls – how the body absorbs an impact force. Let’s take a general look at these considerations.

Compliance

OSHA considers our rappel/lower main lines as “work positioning” lines and our belay or safety lines as “fall protection.” The fact that they and we, as rescuers, consider the safety line as fall protection, or more accurately as our Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS), kicks in a few requirements and considerations for all private sector responders and for municipal responders governed by OSHA-approved State Plans. These responders are required to comply with applicable OSHA regulations.

However, keep in mind, these regulations are designed to protect workers (and rescuers) from harm and injury. During training, since it is not a real rescue, we should be following the applicable regulations and standards for safety as well as liability reasons. Even during actual rescues, it is important to adequately protect our people from injury. The days of “rescue at all costs” are gone. We are responsible for designing training, systems and SOPs/SOGs that protect our people in a rescue situation.

Note the following key points from OSHA 1926.502(d):

• Limiting the free fall distance (max free fall 6 feet)
“…be rigged such that an employee can neither free fall more than 6 feet (1.8 m), nor contact any lower level”

• Deceleration distance of 3.5 feet (41 inches)
“…bring an employee to a complete stop and limit maximum deceleration distance an employee travels to 3.5 feet (1.07 m)”

• Maximum allowable impact load 1,800lbf.
“…limit maximum arresting force on an employee to 1,800 pounds (8 kN) when used with a body harness”

• Improvised anchorage strengths of 5,000lbf or twice the anticipated load.

“Anchorages used for attachment of personal fall arrest equipment shall be…capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds (22.2 kN) per employee attached…”
“Have sufficient strength to withstand twice the potential impact energy of an employee free falling a distance of 6 feet (1.8 m), or the free fall distance permitted by the system, whichever is less.”

• Harness attachment should be to the high-point dorsal connection point.

“The attachment point of the body harness shall be located in the center of the wearer's back near shoulder level, or above the wearer's head.”

You may have heard the statement, “Firefighters/rescuers don't need fall protection or need to follow OSHA.” This is not true for the 27 State Plan states where OSHA regulations do apply to public sector employees including emergency responders. It puts the burden on the employer, agency or department to establish fall protection and rescue protocols that would adequately protect their people.

To illustrate this, here is an excerpt from an article written by Stephen Speer, a NY career firefighter, for “Fire Rescue” magazine which deals with potential OSHA violations during rescue operations and training exercises. (Note: New York is a State-Plan state.)

“I spoke to a New York State Public Employee Safety & Health (PESH) supervisor about the following scenario and asked if there were areas that could be potential violations.

Scenario: A firefighter operating from a roof ladder is cutting a ventilation hole on a pitched roof. The firefighter falls from the roof and is injured.

In what areas, if any, could an incident commander or company officer be cited? In response, I received 12 pages of documentation. The documents showed that in evaluating potential violations of the general duty clause to see if anyone is responsible, the following four elements must be met:

1. The employer failed to keep the workplace free from a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed.
2. The hazard was recognized.
3. The hazard was causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
4. There was a reasonable and adequate method to correct the hazard.

NFPA 1500, chapter 8.5.1.1, states that operations should be limited to those that can be completed safely. In this scenario, there is the potential for citation if all four elements apply. As the above scenario illustrates, whether or not you have an aerial apparatus, you must consider fall arrest protection.”

Practicality

When rescuers are sent into a vertical confined space, we use the safety line (PFAS) to protect them as they are being lowered and raised from the space. It is also used as “an immediate means of retrieval” should something go wrong inside the space. Having the safety/retrieval line attachment point at the high-point dorsal position allows us to attempt an emergency retrieval with the victim being extracted in a low profile to fit through a narrow portal.

Physiological Effects

There have been numerous studies on the effects on the body when subject to a fall and arrest while in a harness. They generally come to the same conclusion that high-point dorsal attachment is the most survivable and provides for the greatest injury reduction. Here are excerpts from two studies.

1) Excerpt from a study conducted by Dr. M. Amphoux entitled, “Exposure of Human Body in Falling Accidents,” which he presented at the International Fall Protection Seminar in 1983:

In experiments on the position of the attachment point on the harnesses, Amphoux found that a high attachment point was preferable because “it gave a better-disposed suspension” and that it was “especially effective when the attachment is on the back. When the falling stops, the neck flexes forward. If the attachment point is in the front of the sternum, the neck flexes backwards and the lanyard may strike the face.”

Amphoux continued that it would be better for the compression to be localized on the body of vertebrae and not on the posterior joints, which were too fragile. “Therefore,” he said, “the attachment point would be better on the back than pre-sternal and should be high enough to reduce the potential neck injury. In addition, the forward flexion would be stopped by the thrust of the chin on the chest.”

This was why Amphoux and his colleagues strictly recommended attachment high on the back. It also protected the face from the lanyard when falling. In the case of falling head first, regaining a feet-first position would involve flexion of the head, whereas if the attachment were pre-sternal, the head would more often be projected backwards [whiplash effect].

However, it was accepted that a front attachment might be preferred in a few working situations. This was only acceptable when the height of the potential fall was very short. Whatever the choice of body support, it should not be forgotten that it was only a compromise and not a guarantee of absolute security.

2) Excerpt from “Survivable Impact Forces on Human Body Constrained by Full Body Harness,” HSL/2003/09 by Harry Crawford:

The one-size-fits-all policy of some harness manufacturers may not be suitable for the range of body weight 50kg to 140kg. Although it may be possible for those in the wide range of body weight/size to don such a harness, the position of the harness/lanyard attachment is of paramount importance. For best performance and least risk of injury, the attachment should be as high as possible between the shoulder blades.

Note: They also concluded that the shorter the fall, the less impact and less chance of injury no matter which type of harness or where the connection point was.

Conclusion

Like any rescue or work safety technique, you need to look at all the variables and decide which technique and equipment will best protect you or your co-workers. We choose the high-point back connection because of the variety of situations and locations we might face during a rescue based on the three considerations mentioned earlier in this article.

Thanks for a great question and taking the time to look into the reasons why systems or techniques are used. I hope this answers your question. If you have additional questions, please contact me at 800-647-7626.

By Dennis O'Connell, Roco Director of Training

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Confined Space Dangers in Pesticide Tanks

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Federal OSHA and other OSHA State Plans do a good job of providing updates on newly recognized hazards in the workplace, as well as reminding us of existing hazards. We need to heed this information as it takes lessons learned the hardest way, and shares it for others that work in the same or similar environments.  No matter what industry our employees are performing their jobs, the fact remains, we are all humans and will suffer the same consequences of exposure to hazards no matter if we are in construction, general, agricultural, or any other industry. 


Often times there are significant differences in the OSHA regulations for identical hazards from one industry to another.  For instance, the height threshold for requiring fall protection in general industry is four feet, whereas the threshold in construction industry is six feet.  Are construction employees able to withstand the impact of a fall better than a general industry worker?  No, the main reason for the difference was due to the rules making process and dialog between OSHA and the industry stakeholders.

If you were to spend some time reading OSHA’s agricultural regulations, you will find that you won’t need much time.  They are pretty lean.  But there is one very important OSHA regulation that must be considered, and that is Section 5 (a)(1), General Duty Clause. 

If a recognized hazard is not addressed in an industry specific regulation, the General Duty Clause is there to protect the employees and the employer MUST comply with it.

For now, there are many instances in the agricultural industry that have no specific regulation addressing the various hazards and thus the General Duty Clause is very important to remember.

Confined spaces are areas large enough for a worker to enter and perform work, have a limited or restricted means of entry or exit; and are not designed for continuous employee occupancy. The following quote is from OSHA Fatal Facts publication No. 16-2018 and provides clear expectations for protecting employees where no specific industry regulation exists. The purpose of this Fatal Facts is to highlight the importance of identifying confined spaces in agricultural workplaces to prevent another fatality.

"The General Duty Clause requires employers to provide employees with workplaces, including confined spaces, which are free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Agricultural opera­tions are covered by several Occupational Safety and Health standards including Agriculture (29 CFR 1928) and parts of General Industry (29 CFR 1910), as well as the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (section 5(a)(1)). OSHA’s confined spaces standard at 29 C.F.R. 1910.146 does not apply to agricultural operations, but serves as a guide for how to prevent these accidents.”

Comments on this story were made by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator for Roco Rescue, Inc.

Resources:
Washington State DOL and OSH
Safety+Health Magazine

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