An investigation into the prevalence and risk factors of occupational musculoskeletal injuries in firefighters in the Durban Metropolitan Fire Department
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Occupational injuries sustained by Emergency Rescue Care workers have been well documented. However, despite their high rates of injury, the literature regarding the risk factors for work-related musculoskeletal injuries (WRMSIs) in the fire service has not been well-established, especially in South Africa. Objectives: To determine the prevalence and risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries in the Durban Metropolitan Fire Department and to evaluate the relationship between selected risk factors and the prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries. Methods: This was a descriptive study from a large urban Fire Department employing 350 active firefighters. Using a cross sectional study design, a retrospective analysis investigated the musculoskeletal injury prevalence from 2006-2008 by means of a questionnaire. Individuals reported on demographics, injury location, injury etiology, injury nature, extent of treatment rendered and time lost from work. Additionally, data was obtained regarding smoking, occupational stress, fitness, protective gear and injury prevention advice given by the Durban Metropolitan Fire Department. A 41% response rate was achieved. Results: The point prevalence of WRMSIs was 33.6% and the period prevalence was 81.1% of the sample. Low back injuries (47.9%) and strain injuries (40.8%) were the most common, followed by knee (22.5%), shoulder (19.7%) and ankle injuries (19%). The most common causes included lifting heavy objects, working in awkward postures and running. Weight, ethnic group, stress, lack of nutritional advice and alcohol consumption were all significantly associated with the prevalence of injuries. Ex-smoking was significant in the prevalence of low back injuries, stress was significant in the prevalence of knee injuries and alcohol consumption was associated with the prevalence of shoulder injuries. Conclusion: WRMSIs are of great concern in the fire service as their prevalence is substantial. Evaluation and implementation of further preventative measures and advice based on the results of this study can be effective in reducing WRMSIs.