Preventing concussions in the workplace
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Concussions tend to receive significant media attention when they occur in professional sports, but they can happen almost anywhere, including in manufacturing facilities.
According to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the number of lost time claims for work-related concussions increased by approximately 340 per cent in Ontario from 2012 to 2022. Despite this rise, research shows there is still a general lack of awareness of this type of brain injury, particularly in the workplace, which means they often go underreported.
In Canada, the highest rates of workplace concussions are in the transportation, storage, government, and primary industries (forestry, fishing, and mining). The most common cause of workplace brain injuries overall are falls, being struck by or against an object, and motor vehicle collisions. However, the main causes of work-related concussions vary by industry and occupation.
How concussions occur
A concussion is the most common form of traumatic brain injury. It is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move back and forth rapidly. It may or may not involve a loss of consciousness; you do not have to black out or be knocked out to experience a concussion.
However, if it results in a loss of consciousness, it is considered a critical injury – one that could be life-threatening. Concussions may lead to an altered mental status that affects cognitive (thinking, memory, learning) and physical performance. Although symptoms usually resolve within weeks, they can persist.
Concussions can result from whiplash, rapid rotation, getting struck by or against an object, shaking or jerking of the head or even the body. In a manufacturing facility, hazards that may cause falls, slips, and trips, and vehicle collisions can lead to concussions.
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of a concussion usually include a new onset of one or more symptoms, which may include headaches or a pressure sensation in the head, dizziness, a loss of consciousness, seeing stars, or blurred/double vision. Slurred speech, nausea or vomiting, and balance problems are also symptoms. If a worker experiences sensitivity to light and/or noise, difficulty concentrating or remembering, confusion, drowsiness, and an incoherent thought process – these are all warning signs that they may have a concussion.
Some symptoms may not be present immediately after an injury but may emerge in the subsequent hours or days. It is therefore necessary to monitor for symptoms several days following a head injury.
Managing a concussion
Workers who experience any of the above symptoms after an injury should alert a supervisor and seek immediate medical attention. It is important to consult with a medical professional on how best to manage a concussion. Someone with a suspected concussion should not be left alone or allowed to drive.
With proper diagnosis and treatment, most people with concussions recover fully within a short period of time. However, in some cases, symptoms linger for weeks or months, making it challenging to resume normal activities or return to work. An individual’s ability to return to work can be influenced by co-existing medical conditions and their concussion history.
Strive for prevention
There are several ways to help prevent concussions in the workplace. Start by identifying and removing tripping and fall hazards, and hazards that could lead to a worker getting struck by or against an object. Make sure walkways and workspaces are free of clutter, cords, puddles of water, or anything else that can cause a slip, trip, or fall. Use proper signage to alert employees of wet surfaces and ensure the proper type of safety footwear is worn to prevent falls.
To prevent objects from falling, keep shelves and storage areas and your workspace clean and organized. In a maintenance facility, place the heaviest objects on the floor or the lowest possible shelving. Do not stand on chairs, desks or tables when reaching for higher-up items, but rather use an appropriate step stool, access platform, or ladder to avoid falls. Appropriate control measures and procedures need to be in place when working from heights. Know when and how to use fall protection and fall restraint equipment. Encourage workers to report all unsafe conditions immediately to their supervisor.
If a job requires wearing a hard hat, make sure it’s appropriate for the job, properly fitted, and in good condition. Implement measures to safely manage traffic flow on site, promote good driving practices, and make sure company vehicles are properly maintained to reduce the risk of a collision.
Given the prevalence of head injuries in the workplace, it’s important to train workers on the safety protocols to prevent falling objects, vehicle collisions, and trips, slips and falls in your facility. Ensure workers are outfitted with the proper personal protective equipment. Highlight the importance of reporting all head injuries as soon as possible and implement a system where no worker is left alone with even the slightest potential for
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) promotes the total well-being — physical, psychosocial, and mental health — of workers in Canada by providing information, advice, education, and management systems and solutions that support the prevention of injury and illness. Visit www.ccohs.ca for more safety tips.