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The dangerous job of helping people

There is irony in the reality that some of the most dangerous jobs in America involve helping others. Police officers, firefighters, EMS workers, nurses and others regularly put their health on the line -- and in many cases their lives are on the line -- to help ordinary citizens in a wide variety of emergencies.

Who do we call in a medical emergency? For most people, the first inclination is to call an ambulance so that EMS workers can assess the situation, begin administering aid and get the injured or ill party to a Pittsburgh hospital as quickly as possible. Those EMTs put themselves at risk of injury every time they answer a call, however.

A couple of years ago the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS) published a study showing that emergency medical services paramedics and technicians have above-average fatality and injury rates compared to the rest of the workforce.

The EMS fatality rate of 7.0 workers per 100,000 full-time equivalents was significantly higher than the figure for all workers (4.0) and even higher than firefighters (6.1). Forty-five percent of the EMS fatalities were caused in traffic accidents; 12 percent involved an EMS worker being struck by a vehicle; 31 percent were caused in air transportation accidents.

Eighty-four percent of injuries were sprains and strains, according to the JEMS report. About 42 percent affected the worker's lower trunk.

The rate of sprains and strains among EMS workers is more than four times the rate among all workers.

The second leading cause of EMS injuries: exposure to harmful substances or environments. Think of how often these workers are exposed to people with conditions including meningitis, tuberculosis and viral respiratory infections. They're also exposed to hypodermic needles and accidental sticks.

Pittsburgh's EMS workers have higher risks of injury than most of us, but they have the same need for workers' compensation when injury or illness renders them incapable of working. An experienced workers' compensation attorney helps injured employees receive the benefits they need and deserve.

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