10 best practices for avoiding workplace concussions
Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), more commonly known as concussions, have been called invisible injuries. "For someone with a severe concussion," explains WSPS Consultant Toni Volpato, "their manager can't see the debilitating headache, the brain fog, or the intense pain from loud noise or bright light."
While the injury may be invisible, the consequences aren't. According to a Canadian study published recently, one in six people reported changing their work habits to manage persistent concussion symptoms at work, and one in five reported struggling to meet their employment demands over months or years. "Some may reduce work hours or exit the workforce entirely," the study authors wrote.1
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, jolt to the head, or even concussion that may cause physical, cognitive, affective, and sleep impairment. An injured employee may recover quickly or over time depending on a number of factors, such as injury severity, how quickly the person receives care, and how well the recovering employee is accommodated at work.
"It's critical to manage the injury properly so the employee can heal as quickly as possible and pose the least disruption for the workplace," explains Toni. "Employers can really help in this process by implementing a return-to-work protocol for concussions, which is similar to protocols for returning to sport and school for children who have suffered a concussion. Otherwise, the employer could make things worse by expecting the employee to 'just push through the pain and get the work done.' This could add years to the recovery process."
What's expected of employers
Under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act, the general duty clause, 25(2)(h), requires employers to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker. This includes eliminating or controlling hazards that could lead to a concussion.
Under Ontario's Human Rights Code, employers must also provide an employee with an acquired brain injury reasonable accommodation whether the injury occurred at work or away from work. That’s because the injury is considered a disability, and the code prohibits discrimination against individuals with a disability.
10 best practices
- Remove tripping hazards. Clear walkways and workspaces of clutter, cords, puddles of water, or anything else that can cause a slip, trip or fall.
- Use signage to alert employees of wet surfaces.
- Keep shelves and storage areas clean and organized to avoid falling objects.
- Wear proper safety footwear to prevent falls.
- Do not stand on chairs, desks or tables. Instead, use an appropriate step stool, access platform or ladder.
- Use caution when working from heights. Do not work at heights unless proper procedures and training have been provided.
- If a job requires wearing a hard hat, make sure it's appropriate to the job, properly fitted, and in good condition.
- Report unsafe conditions to the nearest supervisor.2
- Develop a return-to-work protocol specific for concussions. Among other things, include a gradual increase in hours.
- Provide supervisors with basic training on how to recognize a concussion and the return-to-work protocol for employees who have had a concussion.
What to do if a concussion occurs
If an employee sustains any impact to the head, seek professional treatment right away. A qualified health provider with specialized training on concussion management and gradual return to work can help the worker resume work safely and avoid prolonged symptoms and absences.
How WSPS can help
Our consultants can carry out hazard assessments, recommend controls, and help you develop policies and programs for your workplace. Find out more by contacting our on-duty consultant.
Hazard Identification, Assessment and Control (3-hour eCourse)
Federal Hazard Prevention Program (1-hour eCourse)
Hazard Prevention Program - Federal Sector (free 1.5-hour WSPS Safety Connection session)
Building a Fall Prevention Program, Parts 1, 2 & 3 (free 1.5-hour per session WSPS Safety Connection)
JHSC Certification Part 1 (2-days eCourse)
Preventing Falls from Slips and Trips (1-hour eCourse)
Hazard reporting form (all workplaces)
Hazard reporting form: 20-49 workers; 1-19 workers
Small Business Hazard Assessment Tool (form created for small businesses but useful for workplaces of any size)
A new approach to hazard controls at work (article)
Make robust hazard assessments your new compliance tool (article)
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.
1 "Outlining the Invisible: Experiences and Perspectives Regarding Concussion Recovery, Return-to-Work, and Resource Gaps," International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
, July 2022; 9(13), 8204; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19138204
2 Adapted from "Heads-Up: What You Need to Know About Concussions in the Workplace," CCOHS, www.ccohs.ca/newsletters/hsreport/issues/2015/05/ezine.html#hsreport-hsmatters