The Fire Brigades Union and the University of Central Lancashire are organising a UK-wide health screening programme, and the Scottish Government has contributed £56,000 to make it possible for Scottish-based firefighters to take part.

29 August 2023

Blood tests to look for early indications of disease and cancer will be part of trials involving about 1,000 UK firefighters, and the results of these trials will be used to inform the case for possible annual health screening programmes in the future. 

Siobhan Brown, Minister for Victims and Community Safety said: “I am delighted that we have been able to provide funding to ensure that Scottish firefighters are part of this important research. “We will continue to work closely with the FBU and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to ensure the safety and wellbeing of firefighters who work so hard to keep our communities safe.” 

According to research, firefighters experience more cancer and other illnesses than the general population. These conclusions are based on research that was commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and carried out by Professor Anna Stec of the University of Central Lancashire (UClan). The research was published in January 2020 as a means of minimising firefighters' exposure to toxic fire effluents, and subsequent research involving Scottish firefighters was published in January 2023. 

As a result of the research, an FBU DECON campaign and increased health monitoring and recording for firefighters were created. 

The Regional Secretary for the FBU in Scotland, John McKenzie, said: "The FBU welcomes these health monitoring trials for firefighters in Scotland, which are being conducted by Professor Anna Stec from the University of Central Lancashire and would encourage as many of our members as possible to take part in order to continue to progress this essential work. “We also welcome the additional funding provided by the Scottish Government to allow this research to take place.” 

Together, the SFRS and FBU have been investigating approaches to better safeguard the health of firefighters. Along with raising health awareness and support, SFRS established a specialised pollution group to investigate strategies to lower firefighters' exposure to fire pollutants. 

To date, work has included the development of operational policies, procedures, and safety, as well as audits of fire stations across Scotland. SFRS Assistant Chief Officer Andy Watt said, "This clearly demonstrates our commitment to continuously drive improvement in firefighter safety, and I’m delighted that SFRS personnel are volunteering to take part in this vital piece of research.“

The SFRS has already undertaken work to minimise the risk of contaminants for our staff, and we will continue to work in partnership with the FBU and Professor Anna Stec to develop and deliver further improvements that will help mitigate the effects of contaminants. 

The staff will witness the phased implementation of these adjustments and improvements over the ensuing months. There are numerous areas of work that we are advancing through our Contaminants Group that will take time to deliver. “We are fully committed to doing all that we can to protect firefighters and ensure their safety. 

The safety of our staff is absolutely paramount.” John McKenzie added: “The FBU is committed to continuing to work in partnership with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and welcomes the organisation’s ongoing commitment to address the risks of fire contaminants to our members. The Contaminants Group continues to carry out positive work in this area, and it is imperative that firefighters continue to see the impact of this work within their workplaces over the months ahead.”

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