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Effectively Cooperating With First Responders On Jobsites

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OSHA first responder coordination

While safety professionals, paramedics, and firefighters have different responsibilities, all the share the goal of protecting people and property from harm. Although they approach their tasks in different ways, they do not see each another as rivals. They know the more effectively they work together, the better each group will be at accomplishing its specific goal. Time is a critical component of emergency responses, and greater efficiency means tasks can be accomplished in less time.

As a safety professional and a firefighter/paramedic, I’ve observed interactions between the groups from both perspectives. I’ve been dispatched to emergency scenes where I had to work with safety supervisors, and while working in my safety role, I’ve coordinated responses from local firefighters and paramedics. Using that dual perspective, I’d like to share practical suggestions safety professionals can use to keep their working relationship with local first responders as efficient and positive as possible.

OSHA regulations and building codes are just a starting point. Safety professionals need to ensure their jobsite is ready to handle emergency situations. Part of that involves knowing where access points are and keeping those access points clear. In an industrial setting, access locations rarely change, but on a construction site, they can differ every day.

It’s important to know the location every piece of emergency equipment from fire extinguishers to AEDs (defibrillators) to rescue gear like Stokes baskets. If anyone needs one of those tools in an emergency, you can’t waste time trying to find it. Knowing where it’s at and making sure it’s in good working condition will speed response time.

The safety professional is the expert about the jobsite. When firefighters or paramedics reach the front gate, they probably know very little about the site, have no way of knowing what type of work activity is taking place in which area, and what types of hazards may be present. That’s why it’s important for the safety professional to create and continually update the site’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP).

Having a detailed map or drawing of your facility is helpful when directing first responders through a busy site or showing them where they can access water and other supplies.

Inviting the first responders to walk through your site is a great strategy for ensuring the fastest possible response. You can point out the challenges associated with the site. The first responders may also have suggestions for better protecting workers and equipment.

Another opportunity for cooperation is offering parts of the site to the first responders for training purposes. As with safety professionals, much of a first responder’s work involves preparing for difficult situations, and construction sites often provide valuable settings for training. For example, after the elevator shafts were constructed on one site, we invited local firefighters to practice high angle rescues. They may encounter those one day in an emergency situation, but there are few opportunities to train for them. We were glad that the firefighters were now better able to respond to emergencies on our site.

It’s also helpful to make sure the MSDS (material safety data sheets) for all chemicals used on the site are readily available. Responders can make a quick phone call to Chemtrec in an emergency situation but having the MSDS on hand may save a couple of very valuable minutes.

Other issues may be unique to your type of site. For example, I’ve worked on a project at a hospital that continued to serve patients while work proceeds. Safety professionals understand the special circumstances involving dust control and odor migration, as well as the protocol for working with the different classes of hospital employees. The average first responder may not be aware of why we have to use sealed dust walls to block dust and chemicals from patient spaces, or how we use negative air pressure to avoid contaminating the hospital’s air supply.

Emergency procedures often vary by site. At some, any emergency situation requires a call to 911. At others, the company may have its own emergency response team or fire department that has special training. They only need outside help for problems beyond their resources.

When emergency situations occur, the safety professional’s role changes from preparation to response. The actions that need to be taken depend upon the EAP and the safety professional’s training. Many safety professionals have CPR and first aid training, allowing them to assess the situation and begin the rescue process before the first responders arrive. Once the paramedics are on the scene, the safety professional can brief them. If the emergency involves a firefighter response, the safety professional can direct the firefighters to the location and advise them of any hazards and special conditions that may impact their response.

As I arrive at a scene as a firefighter or paramedic, one of the first things I do is determine who is taking care of the situation. Having one knowledgeable, cooperative contact at the jobsite ensures that our response is appropriate, effective, and as rapid as possible.

Responding to emergencies is a team effort, even when the team has never practiced together. Advance planning and clear communications dramatically increase the likelihood everyone involved will be satisfied with the outcome.