Researchers examined injury data from 171 firefighters from a major midwestern U.S. city over a 12-year period and found that certain personality traits, including introversion, were significantly related to higher injury rates on the job.
Also, female firefighters reported 33 percent more injuries than male firefighters in the study by Hui Lia, Richard Arvey, Ph.D. and Richard Butler, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota and Steven Nutting, MA, of the City of Minneapolis.
The study found in the July issue of Occupational Health Psychology, said the higher injury rate for female fighters may be due to cultural differences.
"Within male firefighters, there may be a strong cultural norm for not reporting minor injuries because it may be viewed as a sign of weakness," the authors wrote. "For female firefighters, this norm might be different."
The finding that personality traits like introversion were related to higher injury rates may be the result of introverts being less likely to call for assistance.
"Firefighters perform more safely and effectively if they cooperate well with each other," said the researchers. "Therefore, those who are most reluctant to interact with team members may seek less help from coworkers during an emergency, thereby exposing themselves to greater risks."
Also related to personality characteristics, the study found that firefighters who tended to ignore safety rules and regulations not only had accidents more frequently but also suffered more severe injuries, while conscientious firefighters performed more safely on the job.
The researchers also examined the amount of time spent on off the job recovery from injuries.
Older firefighters took longer to recover from injuries than did younger firefighters, and those with less fire fighting experience suffered more severe injuries than those with experience.
However, what surprised the researchers was the finding that after an injury, married female firefighters returned to work the earliest, followed by unmarried male, unmarried female and married male firefighters.
Fire companies may assign working mothers to the least risky tasks when fighting a fire, according to the authors, making them less likely to experience certain types of severe injuries.
Another explanation, said researchers, is that married female firefighters may be more cautious than unmarried female firefighters and thereby less likely to be exposed to certain injury risks.
The researchers concluded that the study results have implications for other occupations that involve life-threatening risks that may lead to effective workplace safety interventions and a reduction in injury-related costs.
by Virginia Sutcliffe