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Safety at Work Report

We explore the subject of safety in the workplace in 2021.


Developments in RPE

Brian HeslerBy Brian Hesler6 May 2021

This article discusses the advancements made in the world of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) as well as looking to the future for the future improvements we can expect to see.

The pandemic has triggered changes in how firefighters clean and maintain Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE), with disinfection and hygiene taking on increasing importance. Now that the ongoing crisis has been ongoing for some time, we must ensure that none of the lessons learned are forgotten and that we look forward to ways that we can further protect the health of our firefighters. As a company, we are committed to this issue, and launched our ‘Health for the Firefighter’ campaign last year to drive the cultural changes needed to protect firefighter health.

Functional developments

Dräger RPE has seen significant improvements in recent years with a clear focus on ergonomics and related physical injuries. For example, improving wearer comfort through shifting the centre of gravity relationship between the human body and the set, and of course a continued reduction in weight. All these improvements reduce physical stress on the firefighter which in turn reduces the risk of strain related injuries with examples being those affecting the wearer’s back and neck. Another improvement has been the creation of more air circulation space between the firefighter’s back and the SCBA backplate which helps improve ventilation and reduces heat build-up at a critical central area of the torso.

Any reduction in weight is an obvious improvement, however the distribution of weight is equally if not more important, which often comes down to how the apparatus aligns and relates to the human frame. With new generation BA equipment, the weight is carried on the legs and pelvis rather than the back. This not only improves personal comfort, but also enhances mobility allowing firefighters to work in confined spaces more easily, climb and descend ladders and stairwells with less physical exertion improving working duration and reducing the risk of injury. In an industry where a split second can be the difference between life and death, these advancements are crucial.

Alterations have also been made to maximise cleaning practices, including the introduction of smoother non-absorbent surfaces to make equipment easier to wipe down and decontaminate. On a broader level, certain fire services are moving towards mechanical washing systems, which provide complete consistency in washing temperatures, concentration of detergent, speed and temperature of drying. Dräger has launched into the Emergency Services space specialist BA and mask cleaning equipment and dedicated solutions and will continue to pioneer advancements in the field.

Offering a fully holistic service is important to Dräger, particularly looking at the key elements of equipment design in close consultation with fire services, manufacture, service and training, as well as continuing to support fire services in relation to bespoke workshop design to address cleaning and disinfection processes, service and maintenance, as well as logistical and technical support.

Utilising technology

Technology now forms such a major part of the world we live in today, and its significance for RPE is no different. Dräger telemetry offers the only operationally proven telemetry solution providing vital information to be communicated between the wearer of the BA set and the Entry Control Point. These signals include manual and automatic distress signals, team withdrawal signals, cylinder pressure, time to whistle and time of whistle, and are just some of the data transmitted between the breathing apparatus set and the Entry Control Board. This system provides comprehensive data regarding the firefighters’ condition in relation to their SCBA, including their general safety proving invaluable to those responsible for monitoring and directing BA crews such as the Entry Control Officer or relevant commanders.

Connectivity is becoming increasingly important in fire services and this will only grow over the coming years. Physiological monitoring of factors such as heart rate, body core temperature and related stress levels significantly improve the understanding of the condition of individuals during incident response and can also be applied to monitor firefighters’ general wellbeing during their career often being able to highlight underlying conditions at an early stage which have the potential to develop into something more serious.

Likewise, localisation devices will play a bigger role within incident management going forward. Several firefighters have lost their lives over the years because they have either become trapped or separated from their teammates. Despite the operation of a distress signal unit (manual or automatic), locating the distressed person can often prove difficult and time consuming which loses valuable time and can mean the difference between life and death. As location data becomes more readily available and affordable, coupled with the potential to connect this to BA and telemetry, this will significantly improve the safety of our firefighters, whilst at the same time offering an additional tool to support operational tactics at an incident.

British built

For equipment manufacturers, the location of manufacturing facilities is crucial. The pandemic has highlighted the fragile supply chains upon which so many companies depend, and it has exposed the risks of globalisation.

Despite being a global company, Dräger has its SCBA design, manufacturing, training and maintenance facilities in the UK. The global SCBA research and design centre of excellence for Dräger group is also based at the same location in the north east of England, and these services are backed by a team of more than 70 nationwide service engineers.

The world of RPE is changing rapidly, from kit design to connectivity and technological integration. Dräger has a proud history of innovation in RPE, and we are paving the way for a future of increased safety for firefighters.