IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Emergency medical technician-paramedic: Understanding and preventing OHS risks

  •   December 18, 2017

Montreal, December 18, 2017 – The Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) has published a study that presents a picture of the profession of emergency medical technician-paramedic (EMT‑P), its risks and its difficulties. To do this, researchers observed 101 EMT-Ps, including 23 women, in the Montreal and Quebec City areas during 175 shifts and paid particular attention to individual factors such as sex, seniority and obesity.

EMT-Ps work in two-person teams: one person is assigned to preparing the patient’s evacuation and driving the ambulance while the other provides care, which exposes that person to more risks. The study revealed that unstable patient health represents the main difficulty facing EMT-Ps, since it dictates the care protocol and evacuation priority they must apply. Such instability determines the haste with which EMT-Ps carry out their intervention and partially explains the pressure of the task and the intensity of their physical exertion. Provision of care, at a rate imposed by strict protocols, and moving the patient constitute the tasks with the greatest risk of back injury.

In general, female EMT-Ps, EMT-Ps with the most experience and obese EMT-Ps adopt the safest work postures. Nevertheless, during urgent evacuations, which represent 10% of prehospital interventions, female EMT-Ps experience strong time pressure, which contributes to their perception that their workload is much higher than their male colleagues’ workload even though, in reality, the duration of tasks and their fatigue were similar. In addition, experienced EMT-Ps and obese EMT-Ps adopt safer postures than colleagues who have less seniority and/or a healthy weight.

“Our study, which showed that in fact work constraints are what create risk, and not the profession itself, will help make all stakeholders more aware of the risks of musculoskeletal disorders associated with the profession of EMT-P. EMT-Ps have a higher rate of workplace injuries and tend to retire earlier than other workers in the population; often they then take jobs with less demanding tasks. In addition, we hope to contribute to prevention by suggesting various methods and possibilities for action, including improving equipment, alternating roles after each urgent intervention, and polishing their skills related to time management and movement during a prehospital intervention,” stated researcher Philippe Corbeil, of the Faculty of Medicine at Université Laval.

The study titled Measurement of emergency medical technician-paramedics’ exposure to musculoskeletal risk factors can be consulted free of charge at

An advocacy document summarizing the key results of the study is also available at

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Jacques Millette
Manager Public Affairs