NIOSH Research on Ambulance Worker Safety


Ambulance crashes are a major safety concern for workers and patients. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reviewed data from 45 special crash investigations from 2001-2015, and found that 84% of EMS workers were not wearing a seat belt in the patient compartment. For EMS workers, wearing a seat belt can be at odds with doing their jobs properly: they need the mobility to reach the patient at all times, collect needed supplies, adjust lighting and temperature, and communicate with their driver and the hospital.

Early NIOSH research focused on advanced harness-like systems similar to those used in military helicopters, which allow workers to be safely restrained but fully mobile. This initial work showed promise, and some early adopters purchased the systems for their ambulances.

Realizing there were more opportunities to improve worker and patient safety, NIOSH formed a diverse team of more than 30 industry partners that included ambulance builders, cot and seat suppliers, and other parts of government to tackle a range of safety concerns.

The research was co-funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) and resulted in the publication of 10 new crash test methods that address everything from seating to storage cabinets in the patient compartment.

NIOSH crash tested ambulances in front, side and rear impacts and measured loading in each vehicle to better understand an ambulance’s ability to withstand the impact it would experience during an actual crash event.  In fact, the same crash test methods that are used to test the safety of the cars we drive were used to test the safety of the ambulance.

Data collected from crash testing allowed engineers to better understand how the structure reacted during a crash event, and to recreate the conditions in a lab setting to test and design safer seating, cots, equipment mounts, and the body structure itself.