Perhaps because of increased attention to concussions suffered by athletes, there has been a big jump in the number of reported workplace concussions in the last couple of years.
SFM, a workers compensation insurer in the Midwest, charted a whopping 48 percent increase from 2012 to 2014 in reported concussions that caused employees to lose time from work.
Slips, trips, falls, bangs on the head and vehicle accidents are common causes of brain injuries incurred on the job. That head injuries happen at work isn’t new. But there’s growing awareness in the labor and human resource communities that they need to ramp up concussion education.
One of the issues is that concussions may not be detected at the time they occur. And, unlike pro sports athletes, everyday workers are unlikely to have their moment of impact recorded and available for replay analysis.
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Aside from athletes, most likely concussion victims include construction workers, firefighters, police officers, loading dock workers and delivery drivers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers concussions to be like any other workplace injury — possibly preventable if safety recommendations are followed. Hard hat protection is a must in many jobs. Even hard hats, though, are no guarantee that injury won’t occur if a knock to the head is hard enough.
Medical officers, safety administrators and lawyers who deal with workplace injuries all agree that an employee should do two things immediately upon experiencing a blow to the head: Seek medical attention and report the incident to the employer.
Because brain injury symptoms sometimes are delayed, or because people sometimes think “it’s just a little headache,” those steps often aren’t followed.
Lack of medical attention could have long-term health consequences if it’s more than a little headache. Concussions can be hard to diagnosis, but CT scans can identify skull fractures, hemorrhages and hematomas, and MRI exams can measure brain functions.
Failure to report head injuries at the time incidents occur also could have long-term financial consequences for a worker, making it difficult to tie the injury to work and harder to be judged eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, which may help cover out-of-pocket expenses, medical bills, therapy bills and lost wages.
In many concussion cases, workers may never miss work or may return to work after limited rest. Sometimes, limited-duty orders may be written by physicians.
Limited work orders might say the worker temporarily shouldn’t drive, operate machinery, climb ladders or lift heavy objects. They also might limit work hours, require rest breaks or downscale responsibilities for a while.