Evaluation of Noise, Stress, and Injury Risk among Firefighters

Liberty Burn

Principal Investigator: Rick Neitzel, Terry Von Thaden (University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana)

Source of funding: University of Michigan Center for Occupational Health and Safety Engineering

Description: Firefighting is hazardous work, as evidenced by the high rate of injuries and illnesses among firefighters. In particular, firefighters have the potential for simultaneous exposure to high levels of noise, stress, and fatigue, and there is an emerging body of literature that suggests that these exposures may be related to injury risk. Despite the high potential for injury, studies of occupational hazards associated with firefighting often suffer from inadequate exposure assessment. Exposures to firefighting hazards are difficult work to assess in situ, due in part to the transient and unpredictable nature of these hazards, as well as to the mobile nature of firefighting work.

The proposed study will take advantage of a unique training facility, the Illinois Fire Service Institute, to explore exposures to several occupational hazards among firefighters undergoing vehicle extrication training. These hazards are fatigue, stress, and noise. Demographics, health status, and injury experience will be assessed at baseline, and fatigue, sleep quality and duration, sleepiness, ability to concentrate, and physical activities will be evaluated daily via questionnaire, a psychomotor vigilance task, and an activity log. Stress will be evaluated daily via questionnaire and measurements of heart rate variability. Noise levels will be evaluated continuously over the entire study duration, including training, nontraining, and sleep periods. We will explore the relationships between these various exposures and injury and near-miss experience, also evaluated on a daily basis for all subjects. The results of this study will provide useful information about the relationship of noise, stress, and fatigue to injury risk among firefighters, and may be generalizable to other high hazard occupations, as well.