Concussions in the Workplace
Posted 4/26/2018 by UHBlog
Concussions in the workplace aren't new, but some experts think they're under-reported. Talk to us about how to set up a concussion education program in your company.
Every person who goes to work can expect to return home safe and healthy, thanks to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970. That's one of the reasons that accident reports, inspection details and investigation summaries are critical components of OSHA's operations. From these documents, prevention strategies are often developed and shared widely with employers.
But a lot of employers may not be as proactive about preventing concussions as they are about other workplace hazards. Although the reasons can vary, getting help early is important and can help prevent short and long-term complications which might affect the employee's ability to resume normal work activities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), head injuries are caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Head injuries can result in lacerations, concussions and other forms of traumatic brain injury (TBI). The severity of a TBI may range from mild to severe, which can impact the person's mental status or consciousness after the injury.
“Most studies that I have seen on traumatic brain injuries look primarily at athletes,” says occupational medicine specialist Mundeep Chaudhry, MD. “So it’s hard to know how under-reported they are, but in colder, wet environments like Northeast Ohio, we do see a lot of slips, trips and falls, and we know these can lead to TBIs. My sense is, people don’t always tell their employers. They may be embarrassed or they don't think it’s serious.”
TBIs fall into four categories – thinking/remembering, physical, emotional/mood and sleep – and can cause:
- Being confused and seeing “stars”
- Slurred speech
- Inability to stand without falling back down
- Mental fogginess, such as forgetting how to turn on a computer
- Personality changes, which might include anxiety or restlessness
- Lethargy (sluggish, sleepy, gets tired easily)
The CDC says TBIs can be a major cause of death and disability and contribute to about 30 percent of all injury deaths. A person who experiences a concussion can be affected for days, weeks and even years, depending on its severity. This, in turn, can cause not only physical pain and suffering, but can lead to loss of employment, debt and other quality-of-life issues, reports an OSHA white paper on injury and illness prevention programs.
No one is immune from sustaining a concussion, although certain industries and occupations are more at risk. For instance, construction and manufacturing have a higher likelihood than an office setting.
According to Dr. Chaudhry, to prevent or minimize the risks of concussions, it's important to have an education program that includes:
- Prevention and mitigation strategies, such as wearing properly fitted helmets and seat belts in all moving vehicles
- Recognition of situations that can lead to a concussion; for instance, failure to wear a hard hat when required
- Evaluation by an occupational health specialist, who can determine when it's safe for the employee to return to work and under what working conditions
- Management of situations that can cause accidents, including tripping hazards, placing non-slip mats at entrance ways and installing handrails
“An occupational health specialist can educate your managers and employees about concussions and any additional risks, such as second-impact syndrome (SIS),” Dr. Chaudhry says. “Even though SIS is rare, it's very dangerous. It can occur after a person suffers a second concussion before a first concussion has properly healed. Even if the second concussion is very minor, it can be fatal.”
To learn more about University Hospitals' occupational health and safety services, connect with University Hospitals Employer Solutions for more information.
Mundeep Chaudhry, MD is an occupational medicine specialist for University Hospitals Occupational Health. You can request an appointment with Dr. Chaudhry or any other doctor online.