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ADOSH – Keeping Arizona’s First Responders Safe

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Interview with Darin Perkins
Former ADOSH Director

   Arizona, with its rural population spread over the sixth largest area of any state, and extreme range of environmental conditions, poses particular challenges for rural first responders.

   During his 22 years with the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH), Arizona’s state OSHA program, the last 14 as its Director, Darin Perkins promoted the safety of those responders.

   Throughout his career with ADOSH, Darin had a wide variety of first-hand inspection experiences with responder agencies in both urban and rural areas of the state. The environmental diversity includes deserts, mountains, high and low forests, mesas, canyons, riverbeds without water at risk of flash flooding, and flowing rivers. Weather conditions across the state include very hot temperatures, haboobs (severe dust storms), monsoon rains, snow, hail, and in some areas, dense fog.

   Thus, Arizona rural first responder agencies need to have very specific training and well-defined procedures as they respond to each emergency situation based on the logistics of their locations.

   During an inspection visit by ADOSH, Darin says, the agency’s safety policies and procedures are reviewed to make sure that employees have the appropriate training and equipment to prevent them from being at risk of injury and death. The visits can result in education regarding the standards, or potential citations and penalties for aspects that are out of compliance. Most often these are for lack of appropriate training and equipment.

   It is very rare for employers not to want to be in compliance with ADOSH standards, in Darin’s experience. Most often, they are simply not aware of the requirements. Also, lack of funding can be a major issue for rural first responder agencies.

   Many of these departments are overseen by local governing boards or city councils, whose members may not have experience dealing with the specific health and safety services that need to be provided to their communities. They have many demands on their budgets, and may not fully appreciate the need to provide sufficient dollars for training and gear to protect their responders.

   Although it seems like a punitive model to give out-of-compliance citations and penalties to the rural departments, these actions can serve to educate the people who make the funding decisions for releasing the dollars in their budgets. Citations must be corrected; they cannot be ignored. And penalties add additional costs to what must already be spent to correct them. The ADOSH inspections focus on the safety and health needs of the first responders, and emphasize that the expense for the training and protective gear must become prioritized expenditures.

   In one example, a problem was observed during an ADOSH visit to a rural firefighter department. It was identified that a training that was being provided to the employees actually was putting them at risk of injury or death, rather than teaching them prevention strategies.

   They also did not have the proper equipment they needed for the situations they might encounter or tasks they might need to perform. This agency had oversight by a governing board that had not sufficiently funded their department. The citations specifically identified the problems and corrections needed, and the department used them as a means to get the appropriate funding to correct those problems. Appropriate training resources were identified to correct the improper techniques that were being taught.

   Once a citation is issued, it must be addressed, no matter what the funding circumstances are. Either a compliance officer will make a follow-up inspection, or an employer can indicate how the situation has been corrected, such as submitting evidence that a training has been provided.

   Darin emphasized that ADOSH is a big proponent of accident prevention and encourages employers to have written policies, procedures, and plans for employees to guide them in ways to stay safe and healthy.

   Training is a key part of accident prevention, and Darin recommends that first responders be provided with training that exceeds what is required by standards. The training needs to be continuous and updated to reflect the most current strategies and techniques that are available.

   Since January 2013, Darin has assumed a new role as Environmental Health and Safety Manager of the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water from the Colorado River throughout the state. He has found that CAP maintains detailed procedures for performing tasks, which helps ensure employee safety.

   At CAP, he has seen the importance of coordinating trainings with local responder agencies so they will be aware of possible situations they might encounter at CAP facilities. CAP has previously hosted visits by local first responders such as the Buckskin Mountain Fire Department and the Avra Valley Fire Department so those agencies could view the varied conditions in which CAP personnel work. He recommends pre-planning, training, and practice as the necessary steps to ensure that first responders will have the best opportunity to stay safe and healthy during at-risk situations.

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