Researchers designed a communication intervention strategy to increase post-fire decontamination behaviors in a group of firefighters. Here’s what happened.
The decon challenge: Routine firefighting can expose firefighters to substantial cancer risk. A study in 2015 estimated that firefighters have a 14 percent increased lifetime cancer risk compared to the general public.
Using cleansing wipes on skin and field decontamination of dirty gear can significantly reduce these toxic exposures, but researchers have found that firefighters often don’t perform systematic decontamination procedures. The reasons for this vary but often relate to group norms, attitudes and perceived barriers.
The researchers’ hypothesis: Firefighters work in what researchers call high-reliability organizations, where the environment is high-risk and the organizational culture places emphasis on peer-support, teamwork and expertise. Group norms exert a very strong influence in that setting.