NIOSH develops first database of firefighter body dimension to improve design and safety of fire apparatus

NIOSH develops first database of firefighter body dimension to improve design and safety of fire apparatus

To protect firefighters in the line of duty, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recorded and developed the first database of firefighter body measurements.

Also known as anthropometric information, the database will be used to improve the design and safety of fire apparatus and equipment that firefighters depend on to help protect themselves at work.

Approximately 100 firefighters die in the United States per year and 72,000 sustain injuries which prompted NIOSH to to work with the firefighter community, firefighter manufacturer apparatus manufacturers, and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards committee to conduct the first national survey of firefighter body dimension information. The survey included 951 male and female firefighters across the country.

“Before our research, the majority of body dimension data available was from military personnel collected several decades ago, which does not accurately represent today’s workers who are much more diverse in age, gender, and ethnicity,” said Dr Hongwei Hsiao, principal investigator and branch chief for the Division of Safety Research at NIOSH.

“We also know that workers have unique sizes and shapes that vary by occupation.”

A total of 71 body dimension measurements were collected, using both 3-dimensional scanning technologies and traditional digitization methods. The data collected will be used in updating the designs of their seat belts, fire truck cabs, gloves, boots, seats, and self-contained breathing apparatus carrying straps, and protective clothing.

In addition to this, NIOSH developed and tested several design procedures, which provide the basis for equipment designers, standard writers, and industry manufacturers to use and improve firefighter equipment design and efficacy. Findings from the design procedures suggest that changes to fire apparatus and personal protective equipment are needed to accommodate the present diverse workforce of firefighters.

“The data obtained in this survey provide the first available U.S. national firefighter anthropometric information needed for updating ergonomic and safety specifications for fire apparatus and firefighter protective equipment,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D.

“We know that design changes to fire apparatus and protective equipment, based on the data we collected, can keep firefighters safe whether they are on their way to the scene of a fire or in the line of duty.”

Previous research showed that some firefighters are not able to buckle their seatbelts in emergency vehicles when wearing turnout gear. Because of NIOSH’s database, a metropolitan fire department retrofitted older fire apparatus with a new seatbelt system.

“We’re delighted that the data is being used to support design changes and look forward to possible future changes to reduce the risk of injury and death among firefighters,’ said Dr Hsiao.

More information about the anthropometric research can be obtained via the Featured Engineering Publications page.