How Your Rescue Guidelines Shape Industry Standards

We do a lot of things during our workday because they’re “the industry standard.”  We work for a certain number of hours, pay our personnel a certain rate, enforce certain job performance requirements, and seek a certain amount of professional development because the industry standard says that we should.

Sometimes the industry standard forces us through a sludge of red tape, and other times we’re left shaking our heads at the no-man’s-land the industry standard let us wander into. And sometimes you’d just like to find those people who established the industry standard, and give them a piece of your mind.

Well, look no further – one of those people is you.

The industry standard is really just a skeleton

The concept of industry standard originated in the courtroom, and is based on the legal elements of negligence.  The industry standard concept is a stunning connection of legal dots that can lead to all kinds of trouble for those that ignore it. But until it is taken out of the courtroom and into the streets, the industry standard is just a skeleton with no muscle to effect change.

When someone points a finger and shouts, “negligent!” at an organization, the courtroom will look to the industry standard to see what it has to say on the issue. 

What kind of reasonable behaviors and choices are exhibited by organizations performing similar work?  This is when your industry standard gets fleshed out – all relevant laws, regulations, standards and guidelines are piled into a huge stack of bedside reading, which the court distills into an understanding that should be held by any reasonable operator in that given situation.

Raven rope rescue operations

Laws, regs, and standards, oh my…

Laws, regulations, standards and guidelines are not all the same, although they do each play a role in fleshing out the industry standard.  FEMA’s manual Developing Effective Standard Operating Procedures for Fire and EMS Departments helps operators understand how laws, regulations, standards and guidelines differ, and their definitions are worth repeating:

Laws: These are rules established by society to help define acceptable behavior.

Example:  As a technical rescue training provider, we ensure employers are aware of Section 217.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code (which used to be known as the “Westray Bill” during its conception) which states that, “Every one who undertakes, or has authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.”

Regulations: Since statutory laws are often general in nature, legislatures create agencies to interpret, apply and enforce statutes. The rules annunciated by these agencies, which carry the weight of law, are called regulations.

Example: Provincial work safe programs are a prime example of regulations.

Standards: These are developed by professional organizations to help establish operating norms and certification requirements for personnel and equipment. Known as “consensus standards”, they represent the cumulative knowledge of experts in a given field.

Example: NFPA, ANSI and CSA are all consensus standards. Rescue 3 International’s training standard is a consensus standard as well.

Guidelines: Informed by laws, regulations and standards, guidelines are explanations prepared by individual organizations to clarify what is expected and required of personnel in performing their jobs.  The NFPA defines a standard operating guideline as “an organizational directive that establishes a standard course of action.”

Leading organizations will publish or enunciate their guidelines to provide benchmarks of desirable practices.  These published guidelines can be entered as evidence in a trial or claim, and contribute to the body of documentation that shapes the industry standard that applies to you.

Raven Swiftwater rescue

The man in the mirror

And so we’re back where we started, with our love-hate relationship with the industry standard… Except this time, you know you have a role in influencing that standard through the development, publication and ongoing maintenance of guidelines. 

We recommend FEMA’s manual, available free online, to anyone involved with writing or modifying operating guidelines.  The manual is easy to read, and provides an example categorization system containing over 100 guidelines in eight main categories.

No matter how many guidelines you end up writing, and no matter how they’re categorized, your guidelines should ultimately bring you to the same conclusions as other reasonable operators in your industry. Whatever is considered reasonable behaviour by your industry (and subsequently, the court) is the behaviour you’ll be expected to adopt – nothing less, but nothing extraordinary, either.

However, be aware… what used to be extraordinary may become ordinary over time.

Utilize ongoing professional development and guideline maintenance to keep ahead of the extraordinatry-to-ordinary curve.

Well-designed guidelines have the power to protect your organization, and will empower your personnel to make the best decision available to them.  Ensure that you can articulate why your guidelines are the way they are, and you’re well on your way to contributing to the shape of the industry standard.

The rescue guideline industry standard is yours to change.


Developing Effective Standard Operating Procedures for Fire and EMS Departments – FEMA, 1999

Industry Standards – Understanding Them To Avoid Liability Exposure – originally presented by Knutson & Associates, Attorneys At Law at the NOLS Wilderness Risk Management Conference, 2013. 

Developing Preplanning Standard Operating Procedures – Eric G. Bachman, November 25, 2013, published in Fire Engineering Magazine

Standard Operating Guidelines for Training – Rescue Talk by Roco Rescue

Disclaimer: We’re not lawyers.  We’re technical rescue experts. We’ve been around since 1980, have a sterling safety record, and have been called into courtrooms as expert witnesses, but seek your legal advice from someone with more letters behind their name.