Safety and Health Training Needed for Volunteers

A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that volunteer work can be dangerous, particularly for firefighters or for those whose volunteer work involves driving or riding in a motor vehicle.

The study, which analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries from 1993 through 2002 and other government sources, found that during that period, 501 people died from injuries sustained while volunteering.

Most of those who died were firefighters or other volunteers who were operating motor vehicles at the time of death, the study found.

During the study period, three occupations accounted for approximately half of the 501 fatal injuries to volunteers:

  • Firefighters 185 deaths (37 percent);
  • Nonconstruction laborers 35 deaths (7 percent); and
  • Pilots/navigators 24 deaths (5 percent).

The remaining fatalities (all accounting for 4 percent or less than the total number) were distributed across 13 occupations.

The next highest fatality total was for religious workers, with 19 deaths, or 4 percent of the total number of fatalities.

The 25-34 age range accounted for the most volunteer deaths 103 during the study period.

The single most common volunteer activity at the time of death was firefighting, for which 76 deaths 15 percent of the total were recorded. Driving a motor vehicle (for example, an automobile, truck or farm vehicle) was recorded in 100 21 percent of the fatalities. Riding in a motor vehicle accounted for 37 of the deaths, or 7 percent of the total number of fatalities, the study found.

The overall rate of death among volunteers was 3.2 per 100,000 FTE (full-time equivalent) population.

To reduce the risk for fatalities, the study recommends that driver training should be provided to volunteer firefighters as described in National Fire Protection Association Standard 1451. Other organizations using volunteer drivers should consider adopting policies and providing education that emphasizes safe driving at work and in the community, the study recommends. The National Safety Council offers courses on defensive driving and other safe driving techniques.

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on the hazards of volunteer work and suggestions for making volunteer work safer. On Aug. 8, look for "Fatality Rates Lower for Volunteer Workers 35 and Over."

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