Firefighter's Health – the Skellefteå Model improves the work environment
30 Aug 2016

Firefighter's Health – the Skellefteå Model improves the work environment

Stefan Magnusson, David Hultman
Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB)

Research shows that firefighters run a higher risk of suffering from serious illnesses than the rest of the population (LeMasters et al. 2006). This despite the fact that firefighters as a group often have a healthy lifestyle and thereby good health.

One condition that separates firefighters from many other groups is that firefighters are often exposed to situations in which foreign and unknown chemical pollutants are present. The contamination of firefighters is both evident and hidden. It should however be a given that the firefighters themselves are able to act on the extent of their exposure.
Firefighters should be able to start their shift in full, clean protective clothing and be able to protect their airways and skin in all situations. There should also be the facility of the cleaning of protective clothing and other equipment by machine every time they have been contaminated. Routines that separate contaminated from clean when transporting and when handling at the fire station are also essential.

Three important factors which in combination reduce the quantity of harmful substances that firefighters are exposed to and then keep the quantities at a minimal level are:
•     all personnel in the organisation receive the knowledge and insight they require in order to reduce the incidence of contamination.
•     simple, clear routines and flows are used to minimise the number of instances in which firefighters are subjected to foreign substances.
•     the organisation provides the necessary material and opportunities for personnel to carry out the operational routines.

These factors lead to an improvement of firefighters’ health over time. The Skellefteå Model is a tried and tested way of creating a good and sustainable work environment in accordance with these points and with very basic means.