NPS Fundamentals Essentials: Safety and Wellness


Whether you are a new employee or interested in employment with the National Park Service, understanding how the organization functions is vital to your success. Are all parks the same?  How is the work divided? How are the sites managed?  What do the different divisions do?

Known as “Essentials,” these topics provide insight into how the National Park Service manages the entire system of parks and programs to accomplish its mission.  Reading through each topic gives an overview at the most basic level with opportunities to link to more in-depth, specific information.


Safety and wellness is a lifelong journey, but every journey starts with a few simple steps. According to the 2014 Employee Viewpoint Survey, the NPS workforce categories of Work/Life Balance, Health and Wellness and Organizational Safety could use improvement.  First steps for this safety and wellness journey are awareness and empowerment.  Therefore, in this Essential, several specific federal guidelines for healthy living are presented and links to find ways to benefit your personal journey are provided.  We will examine “safety” as we generically call it in the NPS as a part of our everyday lives at work and at home.  The Visitor and Resource Protection (VRP) directorate manages these aspects of employee and visitor safety, health and wellness.

In the NPS we address safety, healthy living, and wellbeing through the Office of Risk Management, which oversees the programs of occupational health and safety, public risk management, operational leadership, and health and wellness.  A holistic strategy will be launched by FY 2016 called the NPS Safety, Health and Wellness Strategy.  Search for it in Inside NPS.

Within VRP exists another important branch called the Office of Public Health, staffed by commissioned Public Health Service officers tasked with disease surveillance and response to protect and promote visitor health.  These officers work very closely with NPS field employees as the NPS owns and operates approximately 1,300 drinking water systems, many wastewater systems, oversees food services primarily through concessions, as well as recreational water uses like beaches and pools.  Public Health officers provide leadership and coordination in both preparedness and response to public health issues and emergencies.

Healthy Parks, Healthy People

As you grow in your healthy living awareness, we challenge you to think of health as being bigger than diet and exercise. Consider the connections between the health of the earth, the health of our parks, and the health of our communities. One cannot thrive without the others.

The NPS has a role to play in promoting the health and well being of the nation. We can help change our national health culture through efforts such as building healthy infrastructure and creating partnerships with healthcare leaders and advocacy groups. The Healthy Parks, Healthy People is part of a global initiative; a holistic approach to promoting the health and well-being of all species and the planet we share. To learn more about how the National Park Service is spearheading this ethos of public lands and public health, see the Healthy Parks, Healthy People website.

Park Ranger leading hike in prairie
Park Ranger leads hike in prairie, Herbert Hoover NHS

Risk Management in the Workplace and at Home

One of the most significant shifts in the way the National Park Service views risk management is embodied in NPS Director’s A Call-to-Action Goal #32, Play It Safe. This initiative empowers employees to use critical thinking skills in daily risk management decisions and encourage employees to embrace safety as part of their professional identity. Risk Management encompasses the safety and health of employees, contractors, volunteers, and the public. Components of Risk Management include Operational Leadership, the Occupational Safety and Health Program, the Workers’ Compensation Program, and the Public Risk Management Program.

Park Ranger clearing debris wearing gloves and eye protection
Ranger wearing protective equipment

One critical tool that will help us accomplish this initiative is the Operational Leadership (OL) Program. You can participate by helping to ensure that all NPS employees complete OL training and implement OL principles at park units and offices Servicewide. The NPS is entering into an evaluation phase of the effectiveness of the OL program and your participation is key.

Of the 133+ federal agencies the National Park Service consistently has one of the highest injury and fatality rates among its employees, experiencing Line-of-Duty and On-Duty loss of 86 employees in the last 25 years. From 2005 to 2010, over 3,800 employees were hurt in such a manner they were not able to return to work the next day, and for some, many more days.

In trying to understand why the NPS has a higher incident/accident rate than other Department of the Interior agencies, take into account the NPS culture.

One of the service’s greatest strengths, employees’ dedication to the mission, is possibly the greatest contributor to unsafe behavior in the workplace. Mission-related, risk-taking behavior is deeply rooted within the NPS and has historically been rewarded both in formal and informal ways within the organization. This value is so deeply rooted in the culture that it is almost invisible in the course of daily operations… Influence is a local phenomenon. Employees are most greatly influenced by their peers and direct supervisors. – Spring 2008 Ranger Magazine article, p. 7.

As one tool towards changing the NPS culture:

“…I’m asking each of you, out there, to embrace the principles of operational leadership. Think through each of the activities that you are doing on a day-to-day basis and apply the very best standards to make sure that you come home safe and well…”  – NPS Director Jon Jarvis

All employees and, more importantly, all supervisors must understand that every employee has the right to refuse to participate in any operation that he or she feels is unsafe. Each employee also has the responsibility to provide his or her recommendations on how to make each of our activities safer.  As in any professional workplace weighing in the range of consequences are parts of the equation as well.

Empowerment is a key component of the Operational Leadership program. All employees, and more importantly, all supervisors must understand that every employee has the right to refuse to board any vessel or partake in any operation that he or she feels is unsafe…it is imperative that each of us realizes and actively practices and promotes this right and responsibility…

– NPS Director Jon Jarvis, from an all employee memo, August 5, 2011. 

Public Risk Management Program

The provisions of the NPS Organic Act, 16 U.S.C. 1 (being converted to 54 U.S.C.), to “…conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein..” and the implementing regulations contained in Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations, limits the NPS from transforming its park areas into risk-free environments. Nevertheless, the Service and its concessioners, contractors, and partners will strive to provide a visitor experience free from injury.

As directed in section of the 2006 NPS Management Policy, “The saving of human life will take precedence over all other management actions as the NPS strives to protect human life and provide for injury-free visits.” In accordance with this policy, park units will rely on risk assessment methods and guidance contained in Director’s Orders 50C and relevant reference manuals to identify threats to persons and property. When practicable and consistent with congressionally designated purposes and mandates, known hazards will be reduced or removed, or other controls used to minimize risk by applying nationally acceptable codes, standards, engineering principles, and evidence based prevention measures.

Keeping our visitors safe is a shared responsibility, an inter-divisional responsibility. Natural and cultural management staffs are responsible to help define and identify potential risks and hazards posed by these resources within a park. Facilities management is responsible for keeping a park’s buildings and other facilities in good repair to minimize risks to our visitors and staff.

Fee collectors and interpretation and education staff are responsible for informing and educating visitors on any hazards they may face during their visit.  All employees, no matter what your position is, can take an active role in providing for visitor and employee safety.

Occupational Health and Safety Program

Other important tools for safety and risk management include section of the 2006 NPS Management Policy, which states,  “The safety and health of employees, contractors, volunteers, and the public are core service values.” The policy further defined in Director’s Order 50B requires each NPS employee to:

  1. Adhere to established occupational safety and health procedures, including those contained within Reference Manual 50B.
  2. Work collaboratively with supervisors to develop and use Job Hazard Analyses (JHA) or equivalent for all routine tasks, and help develop and uses site-specific safety plans for non-routine, complex, multi-phase jobs.
  3. Properly use and maintain required clothing and/or personal protective equipment.
  4. Maintain a level of personal wellness and fitness as needed for assigned work tasks.
  5. Identify and, where appropriate, correct unsafe conditions and work practices.
  6. Report unsafe/unhealthful conditions and/or operations to his or her immediate supervisor or the appropriate chain of command.
  7. Report mishaps, including minor accidents and “near-misses,” to a supervisor as soon as possible, but in no case later than the end of the work shift.
  8. Participate in establishing a safe working culture, and practice safe work procedures, even when working alone.

Employee Wellness

5 U.S.C. § 7901 Health Services authorizes your park or worksite to establish employee health programs using federally appropriated funds to promote and maintain physical fitness and mental health of employees.

Wellness programs are voluntary but covers all NPS employees, including permanent, temporary, full time, part time, seasonal, and term employees.  This policy does not apply to volunteers, interns, contractors, or partners.

Workers’ Compensation Program

The NPS seeks to provide a safe and healthy work environment and to minimize the pain and human suffering with work-related injuries and illnesses.  How can you do your part?

More information about workers’ Compensation Program, responsibilities of employees, supervisors and workers’ compensation coordinators can be found on Inside NPS.

Employee Responsibilities

  • Report the work-related injury to your supervisor immediately.
  • Get emergency medical treatment if needed, and notify your supervisor as soon as possible after receiving treatment.
  • If you sustain a traumatic injury, obtain a form CA-16, Authorization for Examination and/or Treatment, from your supervisor or WCC.
  • Complete Form CA-1, Federal Employee’s Notice of Traumatic Injury, online in the Safety Management Information System (SMIS);  as soon as possible, but not later than 30 days after your injury to ensure the receipt of all benefits.  Follow subsequent instructions from website.

Supervisor Responsibilities

Prevention of Injury

  • Make safe working conditions a top priority.
  • Assist injured employees or someone on their behalf.

Medical Care

  • If the employee requires emergency medical treatment, ensure that he/she receives immediate care.
  • Ensure the employee is provided form CA-16, Authorization for Examination and/or Treatment, which authorizes medical care to be provided to employee as soon as possible.

Opportunities and Challenges for Safety and Wellness

  • “Workers have a right to a safe workplace.” OSHA.gov
  • Employees and supervisors can work together to create an environment that promotes exercise, safety, and a healthy lifestyle.
  • Many park employees work in challenging and extreme environments. Safety hazards are often present in extreme conditions. Vigilance, care, and caution must be exercised to safeguard employees and visitors in these environments.
  • Changing a culture of poor safety and wellness in the workplace takes significant investment from both supervisors and employees.
  • If you think your job is unsafe or you have questions contact your supervisor or contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
  • Insufficient budget or staffing are not excuses for perpetuating unsafe working conditions.  Director Jarvis has stated outright if an employee feels it is unsafe to continue an activity (he referred to boarding an unsafe aircraft) the employee has the “right to refuse”. This is one of many reason insufficient budget shall not get in the way of being the excuse to perpetuate unsafe working conditions.
  • Insufficient training is accountable to both the employee and the supervisor.  Certain training certifications are mandatory and others are optional.  Use tools like the Individual Development Plan (IDP) to request and plan for employee development.
  • Lack of oversight may contribute, but the ultimate responsibility to work safely is yours.
  • Reporting near miss accidents and lessons learned through after action reviews help move our safety culture to a more pro-active progressive state.  Work with your safety officer to find way to improve your workplace safety culture.

Stay Active

NPS Fundamentals challenges you to put the “range” back in Ranger by following the National Institute for Health’s guidance to engage in 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. These 30-minute exercise sessions can be time to make a positive connection with your body, your family, your pets, your friends and your environment.*

Some ways to incorporate exercise into your day:

  • Take a brisk walk at lunch or schedule “walking meetings.”
  • Wake up early to exercise in the morning and enjoy the sunrise.
  • Consider how to get more exercise in routine activities like mow the lawn with a push mower.
  • Go for a hike! Explore a national, state, or city park. Check to see if you can bring your dog along.
  • Make it social by joining a sports league, gym, or finding a workout buddy who can help keep you motivated and accountable.
  • Wear a pedometer or utilize a free online program like the USDA’s Supertracker to track your progress.

Take it to the next level: How can you become more physically active AND reduce your impact on the planet? Consider riding your bike to work, walking to do your errands, or volunteering at park and community clean-ups.

*Moderate activity is safe for most people. If you have a chronic health condition such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, or other symptoms, talk with your doctor about the types and amounts of physical activity that are right for you.

Visitors doing yoga on the beach at Golden Gate NRA
Visitors participate in yoga on the beach at Golden Gate NRA

Healthy Eating

Do you want a body built by spinach or a body built by donuts? Healthy eating nourishes your body starting at the cellular level and reduces your risk of chronic illness and disease, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Research the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines on how you can incorporate them into your life. Start with simple changes such as drinking more water.

  • Substitute spinach, onions, or mushrooms for one of the eggs in your morning omelet.
  • Cut back on the amount of cereal in your bowl to make room for bananas, peaches or berries.
  • US News and World Report on Health: “Eat a salad for breakfast!”
  • Substitute vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, eggplant, bell peppers, avocado, and sprouts for 2 oz. of the cheese and 2 oz. of the meat in your sandwich or wrap at lunch.
  • Add 1 cup of chopped vegetables like broccoli, kale, or bell pepper to your pasta at dinnertime.
  • Add a side salad to every meal.
  • For dessert, try a baked pear or apple.
  • Follow up with the CDC and USDA for more ideas.

Take it to the next level: What you eat affects more than just your body. How can your food choices be better for you, your local community, and the environment? Consider food that is both healthy and grown locally. Get to know your farmer and grocer to find out what your dollars are supporting.

Additional Resources

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  5. When I first started working at my park and with my co-workers it pleasantly surprised me by how much of an emphasis the park service placed on my well being. It really made me feel comfortable and respected as an entry-level employee. It helped me make stronger connections with my supervisors and co-workers and just really enjoy my time here so far!


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