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What you must find out from injured workers
Watch for details that don't seem to fit
You're in a unique position to obtain details about an injured worker that others may miss, for several reasons. "The occupational health/employee relationship is built on trust," says Kathy Dayvault, RN, MPH, COHN-S/CM, an occupational health nurse at PureSafety in Franklin, TN. "You will take the time to listen. And typically, occupational health does not discipline employees, meaning there is no reason not to tell."
When a worker is injured, this type of open communication can help you really get to the bottom of what happened, and why.
"Employees tend to provide details that allow the nurse to pick up on things that others might not think are relevant," explains Dayvault. "Listening to the details provides a picture of what occurred. Things that do not seem to fit in the picture can be addressed at that time."
For instance, a report might say that workers assumed a position that you know was impossible, given the work space and the task involved. He or she may claim, "I got down on my knees" when there is insufficient room in the area to do so, or "I was cleaning this area of the equipment when I cut my hand" when that area of the equipment is not accessible.
You might learn that an assembly line worker's back injury was actually caused by repetitive bending over to pick up materials or parts in a large container. "The lower the level becomes in the container which supplies the parts or materials, the more difficult the task becomes, with hyperflexion of the back or neck," she says.
Once you find this out, then you can intervene to prevent continued strain. For example, placing parts on a spring-loaded platform which rises incrementally to the worker's height prevents hyperflexion from occurring, says Dayvault.
Unless the worker's injury requires immediate medical attention, start the interview process right away, or do so as soon as the worker has received appropriate care.
"Once the interview process in completed, review the area where the injury occurred," she says. "It is more helpful if the employee is able to participate and demonstrate what they were doing at the time."
Some important post-injury information can only be gleaned by real-time observation. Dayvault says to check the worker's body position while performing tasks, the areas of the body that are used more frequently, and the presence of poor posture.
"Also take into account the tools used, and the work habits and rotation of workers," adds Dayvault.
Always ask injured workers how long they have been doing the work, what the hardest part of the job is and the factors that contribute to this, Dayvault recommends. "It is also good to know what job tasks are easiest for the worker," she says. "Take in the work surface and height, the height of the worker and any awkward postures or positions noted while performing the job."
Following data or guidelines in the workplace can't replace your firsthand knowledge of the workplace, she says. "If you are not knowledgeable about the workplace and the physical requirements of the job tasks needed to perform the job, you cannot be effective in treatment, reduction and prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses," she says.
Investigating processes and procedures in the workplace "paints the whole picture" so you can keep workers safe and healthy in the workplace, says Dayvault.
For more information on learning from injured workers, contact:
Kathy Dayvault, RN, MPH, COHN-S/CM, Occupational Health Nurse, PureSafety, Franklin, TN. Phone: (615) 312-1242. Fax: (615) 367-3887. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org