The Brain Injury Institute reports that traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens in the workplace more frequently and easily than you might expect. Even if you work in an office “cubicle” environment, you could trip on the corner of a desk or slip on coffee your coworker spilled and suffer serious brain injury.
According to the institute, approximately 20% of all on-the-job TBI occurs from falling on surfaces that are wet or uneven or that contain out-of-place objects. Although motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of TBI, falls are in second place and slowly climbing statistically. This may be due in part to the fact that the number of workers over the age of 65 has increased in the last 30 years by more than 100%.
The Brain Injury Institute designates certain industries as carrying the highest risk of TBI. Those industries are: construction, transportation, agriculture, forestry, fishing, and emergency medical services. The types of accidents that can cause TBI include: falling objects, slip and fall accidents, machinery and equipment accidents, truck accidents, and toxic chemical exposure.
The institute stresses the importance of care in the workplace to avoid TBI. Wear protective dress and gear – gloves, closed shoes, and hard hats – and do not drive while fatigued or distracted in any way, including talking on a cell phone.
Fatal Occupational TBI in the U.S.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a study documenting fatal occupational TBI in the U.S. Of the 7,300 work-related TBI deaths studied, the causes were found to be:
- 31% motor vehicle accidents
- 29% falls
- 20% assaults and violent acts
- 18% contact with objects/equipment
Workers age 65 or older had the highest TBI fatality rate of all age groups, and men had a fatality rate 15 times higher than women. Nearly half of the 7,300 TBI deaths occurred in the following industries: construction (1,828); transportation (825); agriculture/forestry/fishing (761).
TBI in the Construction Industry
The highest incidence of TBI by far occurs in the construction industry. The summary of a study published in Brain Injury, Vol. 23, provides the following information about construction industry traumatic brain injuries:
- Falls were the most common cause of injury.
- The 25 to 34 age group had the highest occurrence of TBI.
- The average age of TBI injured workers was 35.8 years.
- Workers younger than 45 were more likely to be injured in the morning than workers age 45 or older.
- December had the lowest incidence of TBI while August had the highest.
- TBI accidents occurred more often before lunch, during the lunch hour, and in the hours after lunch.
Hard hats do not always keep workers safe or prevent TBI. According to the Brain Injury Society, hard hats fail to protect workers under the following circumstances:
- The hard hat is not being worn. TBI can result from a slip and fall accident at a time when the worker was not expecting to need head protection, or the hat is not worn for some other reason.
- The hard hat is damaged or of inferior construction. Proper hard hats in good condition are needed for head injury protection.
- The hard hat is insufficient to protect the worker from injury. A proper hard hat in good condition may not be enough to prevent head injury under certain conditions in some work-related accidents.
- Brain Injury Institute: Brain Injury Causes: Workplace Accident
- NIH: The epidemiology of fatal occupational traumatic brain injury in the U.S.
- Summary of Traumatic Brain Injury in the Construction Industry
- Brain Injury Society: Despite Hard Hats, Traumatic Brain Injuries Still Common on Construction Sites