Tips for preventing musculoskeletal injuries

A significant number wildland firefighter injuries are musculoskeletal in nature.  A musculoskeletal injury (MSI) is an injury or disorder of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, blood vessels or related soft tissue including a sprain, strain and inflammation, that may be caused or aggravated by work.

Some of the tasks firefighters perform, such as lifting heavy equipment, reaching with chainsaws, and repeating the same movements can strain the body.  In some situations, these tasks can result in an injury to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels, and joints of the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, legs, and back.  These types of musculoskeletal injuries (MSI) are among the most frequent injury types sustained by wildland firefighters.

Wildland firefighters carry out a variety of tasks that are physical in nature and can lead to musculoskeletal injuries.  Some of the more common physical tasks include:

  • Operating chainsaws
  • Walking with heavy packs of fire hose over long distances
  • Dragging charged hose
  • Working with shovels and pulaskis and carrying out repetitive motions.

Tips for preventing musculoskeletal injuries

  1. Follow the risk assessment process – Identify the work hazards, assess the risk, develop and implement controls and evaluate the controls.  See the post on reducing injuries on the fireline.
  2. Rotate jobs and tasks – Reduce the chance of injury through repetitive motion by rotating tasks amongst the crew.
  3. Work as a team –  Evenly distribute muscular and physical work amongst the crew when possible.  Help each other when lifting heavy equipment.
  4. Use tools and equipment properly – Adjust hose pack straps to fit you better when carrying hose, maintain proper body positioning when operating a chainsaw.
  5. Maintain awareness of fatigue – A tired and fatigued worker may increase his or her risk of injury from a slip, trip or fall.
  6. Use and wear the appropriate personal protective equipment – Boots with slip resistant aggressive soles may help reduce the chance of injury from a slip or fall.

Resources for firefighters

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

WorkSafeBC

Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario (OHSCO)