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Traumatic Brain Injuries: Prevention Measures Every Employer Should Take to Protect Workers
According to the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), each year, more than 2.87 million traumatic brain injury (TBI) accidents result in emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths. The BIAA leads the nation in observing Brain Injury Awareness Month in March, which seeks to bring attention to the prevention of TBIs and promotes strategies to improve the quality of life for those living with TBI and their families. TBIs are among the most serious on-the-job injuries that can occur and can result in severe injury, permanent disability, or death. Due to the seriousness of these injuries, it is important that employers take steps to create awareness of the dangers of TBIs and take steps to reduce the risks of accidents in the workplace.
Traumatic Brain Injuries & Their Effects
The BIAA defines a TBI as “an alteration in brain function, or other evidence of brain pathology, caused by an external force or trauma.” A TBI caused by an accident, rather than caused by a hereditary or degenerative condition, or present at birth, is a type of acquired brain injury.
Traumatic brain injuries can range from mild to severe. Signs and symptoms may appear immediately after the event, while others may take days or weeks to appear, so it’s important to monitor the affected person closely. In some cases, a person may experience common short-term effects such as headaches, confusion, dizziness, mood changes and memory loss. More severe injuries may result in symptoms such as seizures, numbness, weakness, slurred speech, extreme nausea, trouble waking from sleep, pupil dilation and loss of coordination. TBIs may result in long-term or permanent injuries, disability and, in some cases, may be fatal. Victims of serious TBIs may need to undergo surgery to address life-threatening conditions that may stem from the injury such as brain bleeds and hematomas. On top of the physical distress of TBIs, those affected may also suffer from emotional and mental anguish as a result of the incident, as well as the financial burden of hospital procedures, doctor’s office visits and time away from work.
Prevention Measures in the Workplace
As stated by Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) guidelines, it is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe work environment. This includes making sure that the workplace is free from serious hazards and in compliance with OSHA standards. To reduce the risk of TBI-related injuries on the job, it’s important for employers to set the standard of safety by mitigating risks, implementing proper safety protocols and providing guidance on what to do if an accident were to occur on the job. An employer should seek to address the most common risks that lead to TBIs on the job, including falls, motor vehicle accidents and being struck by or against an object.
Falls account for almost half (48 percent) of all TBI-related emergency room visits, according to the CDC. For this reason, it is important that employers are aware of fall hazards in the workplace and have plans in place to prevent them. Some of the most common fall incidents are related to:
- Ladders, roofs and other elevated surfaces
- Slippery surfaces
- Cluttered areas
- Unstable walking areas
What can employers do to prevent falls from occurring? First, supervisors need to plan ahead for tasks where a fall could be imminent, such as a roofing or construction job on an elevated floor and ensure that workers’ tasks can be done safely. Second, employers need to make sure that workers are provided the proper PPE for the job. This can include:
- Hard hats
- Guardrails or lifelines
- Footwear with adequate traction
- Weather-related gear
Employers should regularly inspect all equipment to ensure it is properly working and up to safety standards set by OSHA. In addition, employers must provide proper training on how to complete all tasks and how to use the equipment safely.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of hospitalizations due to TBIs and account for 20 percent of these incidents. Additionally, motor vehicle accidents account for the most hospitalizations in adults ages 15 to 44, according to the CDC. In professions where operating a motor vehicle is a regular part of the job, employers must provide proper training for drivers. Workers should be encouraged to practice safe driving habits such as:
- Wearing a seat belt
- Following speed limits
- Avoiding distractions such as texting and driving
- Staying sober on the road
- Slowing down and using headlights in inclement weather conditions
- Monitoring road signs
Additionally, all employers should regularly inspect vehicles, especially before any long-haul trips. Employers should also monitor traffic, construction zones, weather conditions and consider canceling trips during periods of particularly severe weather conditions.
Being Struck by or Against an Object
When a person’s head is struck by an object, the force of the object can cause significant brain injuries. The risks are heightened even more when the object falls at a high speed or from an elevated surface, as these factors increase the force of the object. The construction industry is one that is particularly affected by this type of injury. According to OSHA in 2016, 93 construction workers died as a result of struck-by accidents, accounting for 9.4 percent of total fatalities caused by construction hazards.
Struck-by hazards can often be prevented by implementing safety measures, including the enforcement of proper use of PPE such as hardhats. Hardhats not only mitigate the force of falling objects but can also reduce electrical shock hazard. Employers should regularly remind themselves of OSHA requirements for head protection and have written protocols in place for maintaining hardhats and other protective headwear. Maintenance should include regular inspection, cleaning and proper storage in a clean, protected environment. In addition to hard hats, workers should be provided with other PPE such as goggles, face shields and safety glasses, which can all also prevent injuries caused by falling or flying objects.
Additionally, employers need to always be aware of the surrounding area where their teams are working. In situations where workers are near cranes or other large machinery, employers should ensure the machines are regularly inspected and take note of conditions such as insecure tools, power lines, unstable soil and high winds. Overall, the most important measures for preventing TBI-related accidents are awareness, proper training on how to use tools and equipment and regular reevaluation and maintenance of the working environment.
What to do when a TBI Occurs
The first thing to do when any accident resulting in a head injury occurs on the job is to seek immediate medical attention for injuries. A medical professional can evaluate the injury to determine the severity of the injury and the best course of treatment. In the case of serious injuries, it’s always best to call 911 immediately.
After a medical evaluation, an injured worker should file a report detailing the accident. If the worker needs to recover lost wages and costs of medical bills or collect disability, they should file a worker’s compensation claim. If the injury occurs as a result of a third-party’s negligence, outside of an employer, the worker may wish to consider filing a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages stemming from the accidents. A personal injury lawsuit can help recover financial losses associated with the traumatic brain injury incurred on the job, including lost wages, emotional damages and loss of quality of life. Before filing a personal injury lawsuit, injured people should consult an experienced personal injury lawyer who is experienced representing workers in serious on-the-job accident cases who can review the details of their matter and advise on their options for legal recourse.
Around 150 people die from injuries related to TBIs each day, and TBIs account for 30 percent of accident-related deaths, according to the CDC. Most of the time, acquired brain injuries in the workplace are entirely preventable, especially when proper safety protocols are in place. It’s important for employers to set the standard of safety by having safety protocols in place, raising awareness of risks and hazards and supplying proper PPE and training for the task. Should an accident occur on the job, a worker should seek immediate medical care and evaluation by a medical professional. Workers who suffer injuries as a result of workplace accidents may recover damages through a workers’ compensation claim. If the accident occurs as a result of a third party’s negligence, a worker may wish to seek the guidance of a personal injury lawyer who can review the details of the matter and advise on the best course of legal action.