At American Work Safety, we want workers of all stripes to have the safety equipment they need to do their jobs. That’s why when we heard about this, we were frankly a little appalled at this story by the Washington Examiner:
Apparently, an order placed in October 2010 to be filled by January 2011 resulted in the Washington DC fire department receiving a total of 1,750 fire-resistant shirts costing the city $68,250. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be surprising; firefighters wear fire-resistant shirts under their turnout gear as an additional layer of protection, similar to how other industrial workers wear flame-resistant shirts under arc flash suits or other protective wear for extra protection. Here’s the surprising part: none of the shirts were given to firefighters. They sat there in boxes for over a full year because they did not have the correct D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services patch applied to them, and thus the Fire Chief forbade them from being worn, leaving them in storage instead of distributing them.
What’s the big deal about this? President Ed Smith of the Washington DC Firefighters’ Union is not amused specifically because this oversight has left the fire crews without important and necessary safety equipment — and resulted in a team of five firefighters being hospitalized last April for serious or critical injuries that may very well have been reduced had they been wearing that extra layer of protection under their turnout gear. Worse, replacement fire-resistant uniform shirts are unlikely to arrive at firehouses until mid-June or later.
The moral of this story? Nothing is as dangerous to a safety program as a bureaucratic program that does not consider safety as its primary objective. Always bear in mind that protecting the lives of your workers with the proper flame resistant apparel today is going to be far less costly than the possible effects of lawsuits and public relations damage should you insist upon safety violations for aesthetics.