June is Brain Injury Awareness Month
We use our brains for every single thing we do – whether those actions are conscious and voluntary, such as making a cup of coffee, or unconscious and involuntary, such as breathing. Our brains are constantly working to help us survive and thrive. Your brain is the most powerful tool you possess, but it is not invincible and, therefore, it is necessary to take every precaution to keep your brain safe in everything you do. June is a month in the year that is dedicated to spreading awareness about brain injuries – from the mild to the severe – and to educate individuals about how they can decrease their risk of acquiring a brain injury.
What Is a Concussion?
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) that usually occurs after a blow to the head. Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is when symptoms of concussion persist beyond the regular recovery time.
Some of the symptoms of mTBI include:
- Noise and light sensitivity
- Nausea or vomiting
- Vision problems
- Attention or concentration problems
- Problems with short- or long-term memory
- Sleeping problems
Studies show that more than one million Canadians are living with a brain injury of some degree, with 200,000 concussions being reported annually (Brain Injury Canada, 2019). Approximately 50% of patients with a mTBI have symptoms of PCS after one month and 15% have symptoms at one year (Medscape, 2018).
Brain Injuries in the Workplace
Acquired Brain Injuries, those that are not hereditary, congenital, or degenerative, are often viewed as a silent epidemic, as many people are unaware of how common, life-threatening, and debilitating these injuries are. Concussions are common in the workplace. The four most common workplace injuries include electrocutions, falls, being caught in or between something, and getting hit by an object, all of which can result in a brain injury (Results You Deserve, 2017). While the symptoms are often invisible and can go undetected, concussions can hinder a worker’s timely return to work.
Concussions/mTBIs impact cognitive, physical, emotional, and behavioural functioning. Those with symptoms may have difficulty engaging in regular daily activities and performing the essential demands of their role. Occupational Therapists can help assess, accommodate, and gradually reintroduce employees into the workplace. They can help with symptom management strategies, fatigue management and sleep hygiene education, activity scheduling, cognitive rehabilitation, negotiating modified work activities with employers, and adapting the physical work environment.
It is important for workers with brain injuries to gradually resume their pre-injury activities within the first few days to weeks of their injury, as activity is more likely to speed up rather than delay recovery (Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, 2018). Delayed return to work can have severe consequences for affected individuals, including more physical ailments and psychosocial consequences. Studies show that “brain injury patients who are employed report better health status, improved sense of well-being, greater social integration within the community, less usage of health services, and a better quality of life than those who are not employed” (2018).
What Can Employees Do?
Prevention is key for minimizing risks – not just for a safe and healthy workplace, but also in life.
- Always be wary of your surroundings – if you are in a new environment, always be aware of potential risk.
- If the activity calls for it – wear a helmet!
- If you have sustained a concussion – take it easy! Individuals who have suffered a concussion are at greater risk for a more serious acquired brain injury. Attempting to go back to work or engaging in physical activity too quickly after a concussion can cause further damage resulting in long-term negative effects. A gradual approach to returning to full activity is most effective.
- Follow safety precautions and know your safety plan in the workplace – if you are required to wear protective equipment, make sure you are properly equipped and know the risks associated with your job.
- Use the proper equipment for all tasks in the workplace – this includes using proper stepping stools and ladders as opposed to chairs.
- Know your rights – if you feel unsafe doing a particular job, unless it is stated otherwise in a job contract, you have the right to refuse work.
What Can Employers Do?
All workplace injuries are preventable, and as an employer you need to be informed of safety precautions and ensure your employees are following protocols in place for safety reasons. The best way to prevent head injuries in the workplace involve identifying potential hazards and mitigating exposure. However, if an employee receives injury to their head in your workplace, you can follow the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) to determine the severity of the injury (2017). The scale involves three main criteria: verbal response, eye opening and motor response (2017):
- 1 = none (generally means they are unconscious)
- 2 = sounds but no words (groaning, yelling)
- 3 = incoherent words (saying words but not forming sentences, making no sense)
- 4 = confused conversation (making sentences that make no sense, not on topic)
- 5 = normal
- 1 = eyes not open (unconscious)
- 2 = in response to acute pain (only open eyes when touched, pinched, etc.)
- 3 = in response to the sound of a voice (open eyes to acknowledge being spoken to)
- 4 = spontaneous (blinking as normal)
- 1 = none (unconscious)
- 2 = rigid posture with arms and legs straight, head and neck arched back (conscious and in pain)
- 3 = abnormal posture with arms bent toward chest, fists clenched (conscious, trying to relieve pain)
- 4 = whole body pulls away from pain (attempt to get away from physical contact)
- 5 = moves affected extremities away from pain (normal response)
- 6 = normal (regular posture, no pain)
The numbers shown above are used to tally up a score to determine severity of injury. The lowest a person can score is a 3, which means they are unconscious and you should call an ambulance immediately (2017). A score of 13-15 is considered a minor bump on the head – the person is most likely okay and may need some extra monitoring, a score of 9-12 is considered a moderate injury, and anything below 9 is considered severe (2017). In any case, an individual who has a head injury at work should report it immediately, document the incident and seek medical attention if necessary. As an employer, it is crucial you look out for the following warning signs of a concussion if an employee gets a head injury at work:
- Cuts or abrasions
- Memory loss
If your employee has any of the above symptoms following a hit to the head, seek professional medical help immediately.
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
We strive to be the leading providers of sustainable health and disability management in the workplace. We genuinely care and want your business to be healthy and safe, resulting in more productive employees. Our team of Ergonomic Specialists can perform a comprehensive assessment of the work, workplace and worker to determine work-related risks. The resulting report will help an employer know how risky conditions are caused and how they can be prevented.
Not all brain injuries are fatal or completely debilitating, and many individuals with acquired brain injuries continue to work following their injury. We have a team of highly trained Occupational Therapists who can help individuals who have acquired brain injuries in the workplace. Whether it’s a matter of an accommodation, return-to-work, or a functional cognitive assessment, our team works in collaboration with employers to ensure all employees are set up for success and maximum productivity.
If you would like further information on our services, please contact us! We would love to work together for your healthy business!
Adamovica, Mila. (2018, January 26). Preventing Occupational Head Injuries. Retrieved from https://www.pksafety.com/blog/preventing-occupational-head-injuries/
Brain Injury Canada. Statistics on brain injury. Accessed May 2021, https://www.braininjurycanada.ca/en/statistics-brain-injury
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traumatic Brain Injury & Concussion. https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/concussion/symptoms.html
Medscape, 2018. Eric L. Legome et. al. What is the prevalence of postconcussion syndrome (PCS)? https://www.medscape.com/answers/828904-158205/what-is-the-prevalence-of-postconcussion-syndrome-pcs
Results You Deserve. (2017, May 20). Use Your Head: Workplace Safety to Prevent Head Injuries. Retrieved from https://resultsyoudeserve.com/blog/use-head-workplace-safety-prevent-head-injuries/
Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation. (May 2018). Guidelines for Concussion/Mild Traumatic Brain Injury & Persistent Symptoms. https://braininjuryguidelines.org/concussion/fileadmin/Guidelines_components/12sections/Section_12.pdf