As the demands and complexities of responding to events have increased, so have the risks to fire fighters. Although the risks to a firefighter can never be eliminated, they can be effectively managed to an acceptable level through various measures to include the use of personal protective equipment. In fact, at this point no one would think of operating at an event without wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment.
The mission of personal protective equipment is to provide the user an envelope of protection from multiple hazards and repeated exposures. For structural fire fighting, personal protective equipment is a system of Components and Elements comprised to make up an Ensemble. It is required that organizations have a responsibility to protect their employees by providing them with a Personal Protective Ensemble that is appropriate for the hazards they are expected to encounter.
Organizations also have a responsibility to train their employees on the proper use of their Ensemble and, to establish a program that will reduce the safety and health risks associated with contaminated, damaged or improperly maintained ensemble and ensemble elements. The majority of the failures associated with protective Ensembles, are often the result of improper selection, poor maintenance, inadequate care, excessive wear, and improper use from insufficient training.
Goals and Objectives:
The goal of any organization should be to establish a Program that provides for an ensemble that is appropriate for the intended use and to maintain the ensemble in a safe and usable condition to provide the level protection it was selected for.
It is the objective of the Program to reduce the safety and health risks associated with the improper selection, poor maintenance, inadequate care, excess wear and improper use of protective ensembles.
Although most jurisdictions have laws requiring organizations to provide and maintain personal protective equipment for its employees, few provide detailed criteria on how to comply.
NFPA 1851, Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Structural Fire Fighting Protective Ensembles, was created to provide criteria for the development of a Program to minimize the safety and health risks associated with inappropriate, poorly maintained, contaminated or, damaged Ensembles or Ensemble Elements. Although an organization may not be required to adopt an NFPA standard by law, NFPA 1851 has the advantage of being recognized and accepted as the most technically accurate and current document available regarding the issue of selection, care and maintenance for protective Ensembles. It also the only standard of its type in existence.
Standard Operating Procedures:
Initially, instituting an ensemble selection, care and, maintenance Program may appear overwhelming however; this can be managed by bringing the Program on line over an extended period of time. First, it is paramount to recognize the importance and need for a Program. The next step is to create the Program by developing the written standard operating procedures that will become the foundation of the Program. SOPs are the backbone of any Program and document how each Program Part is to be addressed. Without them, no Program can exist.
Potential Legal Impact:
By not having a formal Program for the selection, care and, maintenance of personal protective ensembles, organizations may find it nearly impossible to defend themselves from litigation should an injury, illness or, death result from the improper selection, improper use, poor maintenance, and inadequate care of protective ensembles.
Although adopting and implementing an NFPA 1851 compliant Program would be regarded as the best option to address this issue, it is imperative that the authority having jurisdiction adopt and implement some type of formal selection, care and, maintenance Program.
Because most organizations have established a precedent by adopting and implementing other NFPA standards, it could be argued that the organization was negligent in not following through with adopting NFPA 1851. Especially with the recognition and status given to NFPA 1851.
The major benefits of creating and implementing a S.C.A.M. Program include:
- Providing a higher level of protection to users through proper selection
- Maintaining a higher level of protection through a care and maintenance program
- Defending decisions by demonstrating a systematic approach to selection, care and maintenance.
- Cost savings
- Smarter purchasing
- Increasing use life of elements
- Accurate record keeping and data collection
- Determining needs more efficiently
- Identifying trends