Public safety work is dangerous enough as police offers and firefighters routinely bring control and order to chaos in the field—but now injuries are also on the rise for them in training.
Training injuries to public safety responders are on the rise both nationally and in Minnesota.
Fourteen percent (14%) of firefighter injuries occur during training. And twenty-two percent (22%) of police injuries also happen during training—up sharply from ten percent (10%) just a few years ago.
In addition to the injury itself, both the department and the injured have to deal with the “the rest of the iceberg” of an injury: covering shifts, light duty, personnel stress, potential re-injury, management time, higher premiums, medical and therapy appointments, physical deconditioning, and even disconnect from the department.
A Potential Solution
So how can your city reduce training injuries? Consider the Training Safety Officer (TSO) program. The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) has partnered with police and fire departments across the state to develop this program—a low-cost way of building on the control that exists in training to make it safer without watering down good training.
This program recommends that departments implement a safety officer assignment when engaged in active training. The TSO’s role in training is very similar to the airfield control tower. The TSO provides the oversight, control, and guidance while working with the instructor to ensure that all trainees have a professional and safe experience with reduced injuries.
There are six major components to the TSO program:
1. Planning Meeting – the training instructor and TSO integrate the safety plan into the training lesson plan
2. Safety Plan – this plan outlines specific safety concerns for the training and identifies ahead of time the areas that could potentially produce safety problems or injuries
3. Site Inspection and Setup – the TSO inspects the training site for areas of safety concern, setting up protective training equipment and having emergency medical equipment available
4. Safety Briefing – the TSO briefs training participants on the specific safety guidelines for that training
5. Training Session - the TSO observes the entire training session, provides overall situational awareness, watches for compliance with the safety plan, and keeps an eye on the pre-identified areas for potential safety issues
6. Clean-up, Check-in, and Documentation – the TSO makes a final check-in with the trainees and instructor to address any injuries or “near misses,” and provides a report for review
These six steps provide a framework to build upon as police and fire departments plan their own training sessions to address their individual department’s needs.
Feedback on the TSO Program
“We were doing some of this already, but the TSO program gave us a model to take it to a new and higher level. Because we expose our paid-on-call firefighters to more risk and danger than they ever face in their normal lives, we need to make it as safe as possible—and it needs to start with their training. We have now taken the TSO program further, requiring the safety officer for all trainings and color-coding the level of risk and danger associated with that training. We are seeing a significant increase in firefighters’ situational awareness; we believe in the TSO program.”
-Jerry Streich, Andover Fire Chief
“This is a fabulous program. While risk is part of the job, these training injuries are preventable. We knew some of this, but implementing the TSO program is a leap forward. Because though we were starting to do some of this, the TSO program really formalized it and made it real. It works great for us.”
-Jeff McCormick, Cannon Falls Police Chief