EMS Education Tips

Workplace Safety Lessons from Industrial First Responders (#31daysofCE)

This week I taught a medical first responder refresher course to a group of industrial first responders. It was a great group of people. I was impressed with their knowledge, interest, experience, and motivation to provide for the emergency medical needs of their co-workers. Many of the students in the class had more than 20+ years of experience as first responders.

Half of the students worked in a food production plant that processes more than 2 million pounds of vegetables a day. From the point the vegetable enters the production facility in less than an hour it is sorted, washed, peeled, processed, and packaged. As I toured the production floor I was both amazed at the machinery (one of my favorite TV shows is “How It’s Made”) and the unlimited opportunities for worker injury.

Every student in the class had a story of a patient losing a finger, hand, or arm to machinery.  Most of the students had also experienced their own machinery related hand or finger traumatic injury. In addition to laceration, avulsion, and amputation injury; falls from slippery floors and unstable surfaces and head injury from low clearance areas and moving machines were obvious risks I observed as I walked around the plant.

Of course, like all of the employees, I was wearing non-slip footwear, ear plugs, a hard helmet, and safety glasses during my tour. Also handwash stations were strategically placed throughout all areas of the plant. I would guess that the accessibility of handwashing supplies would rival any hospital patient care area.

During patient assessment drills, case reviews, and class discussion I took away some of these workplace safety lessons from my students:

1. Repetition creates complacency about the risks and hazards that are present on the job.

2. Doing something dangerous without consequence does not change the odds of a negative consequence the next time the dangerous action is performed.

3. Environmental conditions in the workplace can change rapidly.

4. Everyone is reliant on others taking safety responsibilities seriously.

5. Safety equipment needs to be easily accessible and frequent reminders of its importance is needed for new and experienced employees.

These lessons are just as applicable in the EMS workplace. Remember safety is more than blurting out “Scene Safety/BSI” at the start of an assessment. Assess and monitor for risk throughout your shift. Follow your employer’s safety practices. Confront unsafe practices in your co-workers as those actions may be putting you at risk of injury or illness as well.

For specific safety continuing education content visit A series of workplace safety and health lessons include these topics:

  • Bloodborne Pathogens
  • Electrical Hazards
  • Ergonomics
  • Eye Protection
  • Hearing Protection
  • Slip and Fall Prevention

This is the 10th post in the Everyday EMS Tips 31 Days of Continuing Education series.

By Greg Friese

Greg Friese, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is an author, educator, paramedic, and marathon runner.

Greg was the co-host of the award winning EMSEduCast podcast, the only podcast by and for EMS educators. Greg has written for,, Wilderness Medical Associates, JEMS Magazine, and EMS World Magazine, and the NAEMSE Educator Newsletter.