NIOSH Works to Make Ambulances Safer

James Green, a persuasive engineer with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), wants to make it safer for  anyone in the back of an ambulance and is working to reduce the hazards.

Alarmed  by statistics revealing the vulnerability of EMTs and patients in  crashes, Green spent years building partnerships with ambulance  manufacturers to crash-test their products and devise improvements. His  work with the public–private team has led him to propose 10 crash safety  standards or recommended practices for ambulances and their equipment.  The proposals have already triggered some safety reforms within the  ambulance manufacturing industry and are under consideration by National Association of State EMS Officials.

“Manufacturers are already  stepping up to the plate and taking advantage of the science,” said Dawn Castillo, director of the Division of Safety Research at the Centers  for Disease Control and Prevention. “The progress that has been made is  remarkable.”

Historically, ambulances have been designed, built  and sold without crash certification testing, and most fall under state  rather than federal regulatory authority. Although they often travel at  high speeds, a lot of their equipment isn’t bolted down, and patients  and emergency crew are on cots and seating that don’t meet automotive  crash-testing requirements.

Green’s interest in the safety project was spurred in part by Bureau of Labor Statistics data that showed EMS personnel involved in crashes had a  fatality rate more than twice the national average for all workers.  NIOSH also knew from its own earlier testing that ambulances’ structural  integrity was compromised in crashes at 30 miles per hour. Yet, unlike with passenger cars, no national crash safety standards have existed for  the ambulances, cots, patient compartment seating or medical equipment  mounts.

Green decided to figure out how to make the back compartment of an ambulance stronger. NIOSH began crash-testing to learn what happened  when equipment and crash dummies were subjected to rear, side, and front  and rollover accident forces. Green, meanwhile, continued to add new  players to his team, drawing in more than a dozen commercial interests  with a stake in the ambulance industry.

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