Accidents in the Workplace

Common Injuries in the Workplace

Sprains and strains remains the most common injury in the workplace.  In recent studies, they accounted for 41 percent of all workplace injuries requiring days out of work.  In fact, more than 4 out of 10 of injuries and illnesses were sprains or strains, most involving overexertion or falls.  A major cause of sprains and strains is the use of improper lifting techniques.  Therefore, it is important to learn how to properly lift heavy objects and to ask for help if you cannot lift the object on your own.  Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) accounted for 30 percent of the injuries and illnesses requiring days out of work.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an MSD is “an injury or disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, or spinal disks.”  They do not include disorders caused by slips, falls, trips, or motor vehicle accidents.   

The most common workplace illnesses are cancers from exposure to hazardous substances, musculoskeletal diseases, and respiratory diseases caused by exposure to pathogens, and hearing loss.  Asbestos-related disease such as lung cancer and asbestosis caused by inhalation of asbestos are also common.  Workplace illnesses pose a greater problem because you may not have symptoms until years after the damage was caused.  You may no longer work for that employer and they may attempt to argue that the cause of the disease was elsewhere.

How Accidents Happen

Workplace accidents occur for many different reasons.  Floors, walkways, and ground surfaces account for roughly 19 percent of all sources of injury or illness.  Make sure ground surfaces are clear of objects that someone could trip over and make sure they are not slippery.  Spilled liquids need to be cleaned up promptly to reduce slips and falls.  Remember that you are less likely to slip if you have proper treads on your footwear.  Also, slips and falls can result from carrying too much and you cannot see where you are walking.

Improper storage of supplies and merchandise can lead to accidents.  Cleaning materials, toner, and other toxic chemicals needs to be properly stored.  They should not be stored with supplies such as paper and pens.  Employees must be trained on how to store toxic chemicals so to limit exposure.  Electrical burns are also a common cause of workplace accidents. 

Workplace burns account for 20%-25% of all serious burns requiring hospital attention and they account for about 5% of all workplace deaths.  Make sure you are fully trained on how to use electrical equipment and that all electrical equipment has clearly displayed warnings on them to prevent electrical burns.  Thermal workplace burns result in skin burns and are caused by scalding from such things as grease and boiling water, open flames, and explosions.  Chemical burns result in a severe type of burn and can occur when skin or eyes come into contact with strong acids.  Remember to wear protective clothing and eye goggles to prevent this from happening.   

Car and truck accidents are the leading cause of work-related death.  If you drive for a living or use your vehicle during work hours to drive to meetings, remember not to multi-task while driving.  Do not use your cell phone while behind the wheel and, especially if it’s a long trip, stop and stretch every two hours or pull over and take a 20 minute nap.

You may think that workplace safety only needs to be addressed by companies that perform dangerous activities, such as mills, factories, and auto manufacturers.  Office jobs also pose threats to your safety due to your lack of movement since you find yourself sitting in one place for a long period of time.  You want to make sure your chair is at a proper height so you can reach your keyboard while maintaining good posture.  Also, if you have to stare at a computer monitor, you can develop problems with your vision.  It is important to have a thorough eye examination every year and refrain from sitting too close to the monitor.  You may also want to reduce the glare on your computer monitor and allow for breaks during your workday.  Cluttered work areas are also a way accidents can happen.  Sharp instruments such as letter openers or box cutters can be on a messy desk and you would not even know it until you already suffer an injury.
 
Putting a Plan Together

You need to plan ahead to know what the most likely risks are in a given workplace environment and prepare for them or avoid them altogether.  Having a specific plan in place workplace accidents and regularly training employees is a way to avoid accidents whenever possible and handle accidents efficiently when they do occur.  There should be a safety committee in place to regularly monitor employees, recommend training for employees, and check for potentially unsafe conditions in the workplace.  In order to prevent future accidents, the safety committee needs to take action to assess the situation to prevent any further injuries.

Have emergency medical supplies on hand -- There needs to be sufficient supplies in case an accident does happen.  There should be basic first aid kits and other emergency medical supplies available.  Everyone should be trained on how to properly use the medical equipment.  Also, the employer should provide CPR training for some of its employees.  Employees need to be told who to contact in the case of an accident or emergency. 

Respond quickly -- Once a workplace accident occurs, you have to be able to respond to it in an effective manner so as to limit injury and death.  Immediately following a workplace accident can be confusing.  It is important to address the medical needs first.  You should see a doctor as soon as possible following a workplace accident. If the injury warrants it, someone needs to call 9-1-1 and get emergency medical attention sent to the workplace.  The first priority whenever an accident occurs is to deal with the emergency and ensure that any injuries or illnesses receive prompt medical attention.  If there are injuries, do not move the injured until medical help arrives.  Provide first aid if possible until medical help arrives.  For electrical burns, do not apply ice, ointment, or other adhesive bandage to the burn injury.  If you or someone suffered a chemical burn, remove any clothing or jewelry the chemical may have come in contact with and wash away the chemical.  If there is a fire, first smother the fire and remove any burning clothes.  Cover the burn injury with a clean, dry fabric.  When medical help does arrive, report any injuries and answer any questions they may have about what happened.

Report the injury -- You must report, in writing, any injury suffered in the course of your workplace duties.  If a non-life threatening workplace injury occurs, you should still notify your supervisor.  You want to make sure that your employer is aware of the situation and the fact that it happened during your workplace duties.  In some states require injured workers to file a report of the injury or illness.  The form should be completed as soon as possible after a workplace injury. 

There must be a process put in place to report accidents to help identify the cause(s) of the accident.  This will help prevent a similar occurrence in the future.  You should find out if there is a safety committee.  Every employee who sees an unsafe or hazardous condition at work needs to go to the safety committee to report it.  This will play an important role in the prevention of workplace accidents.  If your employer does not have a safety committee, you should suggest the formation of such a committee.

Collect the facts -- You need to document any information you have about the scene to determine the cause(s) of the accident.  You should interview all witnesses immediately.  This ensures that details of the accident will be fresh in their minds and that they will not influence one another by talking about the accident.  It also minimizes the likelihood that important evidence is not moved, lost, taken, destroyed, or thrown away before the scene has been thoroughly inspected.  It is important to keep people away from potential dangerous equipment but remember not to destroy it or discard it.

Get legal advice -- Consult an attorney who specializes in workplace injury and illnesses.  They can make sure your rights are protected while you focus on getting on your health and family.
 
Read the next article in the series:  Medical Issues and Workplace Injuries 

Contact an attorney in your area.