The benefits of data linkage for firefighter injury surveillance

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BackgroundWhile survey data are available for national estimates of fire events and firefighter fatalities, data on firefighter injury at the national and local levels remain incomplete and unreliable. Data linkage provides a vehicle to maximise case detection and deepen injury description for the US fire service.MethodsBy linking departmental Human Resources records, despatch data, workers' compensation and first reports of injury, researchers were able to describe reported non-fatal injuries to 3063 uniformed members of the Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD), for the period of 2005 through 2013.ResultsAmong all four databases, the overall linkage rate was 56%. Among three of the four databases, the linkage rate was 88%. Because there was duplication of some variables among the datasets, we were able to deeply describe all the linked injuries in the master database. 45.5% of uniformed PFD members reported at least one injury during the study period. Strains, falls, burns and struck-by injuries were the most common causes. Burns resulted in the highest lost time claim payout, and strains accounted for the highest medical claim cost. More than 70% of injuries occurred in the first 15 years of experience.DiscussionData linkage provided three new benefits: (1) creation of a new variable—years of experience, (2) reduction of misclassification bias when determining cause of injury, leading to more accurate estimates of cost and (3) visualisation of injury rates when controlling for the number of fire department responses, allowing for the generation of hypotheses to investigate injury hot spots.

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