According to the Brain Injury Association of America, at least 2.8 million people sustain traumatic brain injuries — more commonly known as concussions — each year in the United States. About 24% of these injuries happen in the workplace, most commonly caused by falls, vehicular accidents or being struck in the head by machinery or falling objects. That’s why, for Brain Injury Awareness Month this March, it’s important for employers to learn about concussions in the workplace, from preventative measures to symptoms and treatment.
How can concussions at work be prevented?
It’s important to remember that, no matter how prepared you and your employees are, accidents still happen. That said, you can reduce risk in your workplace by:
- ensuring employees are physically fit to perform a task before assigning it to them.
- keeping staffing at adequate levels each shift to avoid employee fatigue.
- scheduling ongoing concussion safety training.
- keeping the workplace tidy and free of tripping hazards.
- installing guardrails and safety nets.
- providing adequate training to ensure each employee understands his or her tasks.
- conducting regular safety inspections.
- encouraging employees to report hazards.
- having a protocol in place for head injuries in the workplace.
What are the symptoms of concussion?
Whenever an employee hits his or her head on the job, they should be monitored for signs of brain injury. But supervisors should be aware that not all concussions are caused by a direct blow to the skull. In fact, according to an article on neurology in Scientific American, many traumatic brain injuries do not involve a direct hit to the head. Any accident or sudden motion that causes the brain to “slosh around in the skull,” such as sudden deceleration during a vehicle collision or fall, can cause a serious concussion. With that in mind, here’s what to watch out for after accidents or injuries in the workplace.
To an observer, a concussed employee may:
- not be able to recall events prior to or after a hit or fall.
- appear dazed or stunned.
- forget instructions or seem confused about tasks following the injury.
- move clumsily.
- answer questions slowly.
- lose consciousness (even briefly).
- show mood, behavior or personality changes.
The employee may report or experience symptoms like:
- headache or pressure in the head.
- nausea or vomiting.
- balance problems, dizziness or double/blurry vision.
- being bothered by light or noise.
- feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy.
- confusion, concentration or memory problems.
- “not feeling right” or feeling down.
Signs and symptoms generally begin to show up soon after the injury, but in some cases they take hours or days to appear. While an immediate response is necessary for any head injury, it’s important to continue assessing the individual for signs of brain injury throughout the rest of the workday — and for a few days following the accident.
What to do if an employee gets a head injury at work
- Be Prepared. The most important pre-injury step is to have a protocol in place for head injuries at work. Supervisors and other employees should be made aware of how to handle these situations so that prompt care can be provided to the injured individual.
- Respond Immediately. All head injuries on the job should be taken seriously, and injured employees should be referred to a medical provider who can identify and treat concussions. Mercy Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine can quickly screen for concussions using an innovative device called BrainScope (more on this device below).
- Create a Work Injury Report. Keep a written record of the accident, including pictures, any equipment involved in the injury and witness testimony.
- Provide Workers Compensation Forms. If an employee sustains a head injury at work, help them file a workers compensation claim with the company’s insurance provider.
- Be Patient. Once an employee is cleared to return to work by a medical provider, they may require additional accommodations such as reduced hours or avoiding certain tasks until fully recovered.