As safety professionals, we develop workplace injury procedures with the hope that they’ll never be used. However, the reality is that accidents can happen quickly and without warning, even in the safest workplace environments.
Depending on the severity of the injury, prompt medical treatment may be necessary. In these cases, the immediate actions of the injured employee and nearby coworkers play a significant role in the outcome.
Make Sure Employees are Aware of Your Workplace Injury Procedures
It might sound basic, but making employees aware of the potential for injuries and how they should respond is a key component of hazard communication. Thorough safety training must include:
- A description of the hazard (e.g., corrosive liquid)
- The potential for injury (e.g., burn or irritation)
- The appropriate immediate response (e.g., use of an eyewash or safety shower)
- The required follow-up response (e.g., medical treatment/evaluation and incident report)
Most training programs I’ve reviewed cover Points 1, 2, and 3 well, but there are often issues when outlining number 4, the required response. Follow-up response is a common issue raised during post-incident investigation, as improper or delayed medical evaluation is an all-too-frequent finding.
Practice Your Workplace Injury Procedures
A classroom hazard communication and emergency response training is an effective way to introduce policies. However, following it up with a mock safety drill goes a long way toward solidify understanding and ensuring readiness. Drills and exercises benefit all programs, regardless of safety record and serve as valuable learning tools. This can help keep safety fresh and interesting.
Minimizing incidents is always the ultimate goal in safety. However, long gaps between emergency events can promote thoughts like, “there’s never been an incident” or “it’s been X amount of time since the last accident”. These thoughts can promote complacency and negatively impact emergency response effectiveness. Short, regularly scheduled drills help to stave off complacency and encourage employees to stay vigilant.
Emergency Treatment and Evaluation Options
The four most common emergency treatment options for workplace injuries are:
- Onsite first aid providers and/or a dedicated medical staff
- Occupational health clinic
- Emergency room
- Primary care physicians
Onsite Providers – Things to Consider
Unless you have the luxury an onsite medical team (doctor or nurse), the immediate evaluation and minor first aid likely falls to a dedicated, volunteer first aid team. While not necessarily required, most workplaces with hazardous materials or conditions benefit from having trained first aid providers onsite.
These individuals require training every two years on basic first aid principles and CPR. If your workplace has an AED (strongly recommended), the first aid team should also be instructed on how and when to use it.
Once trained, make sure to provide the contact information for the team members to all employees. Post this information by all facility phones and incorporate it into your Emergency Action Plan.
Occupational Health – Why It’s Important to Develop a Good Relationship
Most organizations can benefit from developing a relationship with an Occupational Health Clinic. Occupational Health Professionals provide important post-incident treatment and evaluation and can assist with emergency response preparation by providing information on workplace hazards and treatment options. During initial discussions, make providers aware of any unique hazards in your workplace, including:
- Specialty chemicals: Cyanides, hydrofluoric acid, heavy metals, etc.
- HIV or bloodborne pathogen containing material
- Potential for radiation exposure
This initial communication helps ensure that appropriate treatments (e.g., specialty antidotes) are available.
In addition to post-incident medical support, Occupational Health Providers also offer valuable preventative services such as immunization clinics (for the seasonal flu or Hepatitis B vaccination), respirator fit testing and medical surveillance support, and ergonomics assessments/guidance. These programs can minimize missed time and increase productivity in the long run.
In the absence of a dedicated Occupational Health Clinic in your area, you may also consider contacting the Occupational Medicine department at a local hospital or a local Urgent Care facility.
Emergency Room – When to Leave it to the Professionals
For serious injuries, employees need to know how to secure the scene, call 911, and provide appropriate initial care. These types of injuries include:
- Respiratory distress
- Suspected cardiac incidents
- Head, neck, or back injuries
- Acute allergic reactions
The only appropriate transport method in these cases is by ambulance. The sooner first responders are notified, the better the likely outcome.
Each of the above cases is unique, and it’s critical that your first aid team and other employees are aware of the appropriate initial response for each. Many videos of safety incidents show coworkers improperly responding to injured individuals.
- Attempting to move an individual with a suspected head, neck, or back injury
- Responding to an unconscious individual without assessing environmental hazards
- Holding down or restraining someone experiencing a seizure
- Not calling 911 immediately
As mentioned above, severe allergic reactions are also important considerations. While privacy is certainly important, first aid teams should be aware of any emergency EpiPen needs for employees onsite.
As a final note, it’s important to communicate that the nearest Emergency Room becomes the default treatment option for after-hours, weekend, or holiday incidents when the Occupational Health Clinic is closed. Make sure employees are aware of the hours of operation for Occupational Health and have access to the phone number for the clinic. I personally like to pause my trainings on the Occupational Health contact information slide to allow audience members to enter it into their phones.
Primary Care Physicians – Why PCP Use is Discouraged for Workplace Injuries
Roughly 25% of workplace injuries are treated and evaluated by the employee’s primary care physician. While fairly common, there are important reasons why this practice is discouraged. I always advocate for immediate Occupational Health or ER treatment and evaluation for any known or suspected workplace injury.
For employers: PCPs are generally less knowledgeable about specific workplace hazards and injury treatment and rehabilitation options than Occupational Health specialists. This can lead to well-intentioned, but unnecessarily long or limiting job restrictions and duty transfers. In contrast, Occupational Health specialists are often better equipped to provide guidance for post-incident rehab and work options, especially if you’ve taken the time upfront to develop a good relationship with them.
For employees: PCPs are generally more difficult to see following an injury than a walk-in Occupational Health Clinic or the ER. Don’t wait days or weeks for an evaluation. For severe injuries, it’s also worth considering that PCPs tend to be less familiar with worker’s compensation paperwork than Occupational Health Providers, and in some cases, this can lead to issues or delays with the filing or processing of claims.
Some injuries may require follow up with a PCP after initial treatment and evaluation at the Occupational Health Clinic or ER, but it’s best to have a dedicated emergency response facility highlighted in your safety manuals, postings, and training materials.
While no one ever wants to use their emergency medical response procedures, they are important components of a complete safety program. If you have any questions about your workplace injury procedures, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact us form at spotlightsafetyinc.com.