Working safely with hazardous substances at the fire brigade
Introduction and problem setting
Working at the fire department is dangerous. Not only due to the fires that are encountered, also the exposure to for example smoke and soot during extinguishing fires is very dangerous. For this reason firefighters wear personal protective equipment (e.g. special clothes and respiratory protection). Yet, recent studies pointed out that exposure to smoke and soot is far more dangerous than initially thought, and only personal protective equipment is not enough to keep the firefighters safe. Fire departments in the Netherlands are willing to decrease the long term health damaging effects firefighters face.
Since 2014 more research has been done on the occupational health hazards firefighters face. The fire department has ordered firefighters to think about ‘quick wins’ in their work within their regions. The focus was on instructors and professionals, and the frequency of exposure. Furthermore the actions were initiated bottom-up, and supported top-down. Eventually, in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment and social partners, a document based on the European licensed Swedish Skellefteå Model has been written. All fire departments in the Netherlands can use this document to work ‘cleaner’ before, during and after a fire (e.g. less exposure to smoke and soot). In this document four levels of measures are identified in the following order: 1) source-measures, 2) collective measures, 3) individual measures, and 4) personal protective measures. The content of this document is positively reviewed by the Occupational Safety Department (Vakgroep Arbeidsveiligheid) and other experts.
More (social) media outings about occupational diseases among firefighters were posted online, firefighters themselves started to understand the urgency of the problem and national information meetings were organized. The effectivity of the measures is tested and the first results will become visible at the end of 2017. The transition of short term measures towards long term measures is still ongoing. In the future the fire departments want to find out if the right data has been used in order to measure the health of firefighters. Furthermore, other methods/systems are developed to get data about firefighters that have been in contact with dangerous substances, heat, stress, aggression and violence, and data about employees that have got occupational diseases.