Take a minute to imagine a situation where you are at work and sprain your ankle. You are in such pain and your ankle is completely swollen. What is your natural response in this situation? You might go to the doctor to make sure it isn’t broken. You might apply ice to reduce the swelling. You may even take a couple days off work to give yourself some time to recover. When we are sick or hurt, we try to do whatever we need to do to get back to our “healthy” life.
Now, I want you to imagine a situation where you are at work and you hit your head. You are in such pain, your head is aching and your brain is foggy. What is your natural response in THIS situation? Unfortunately, the same can’t be said as a sprained ankle.
The brain’s tissues are made of a vast network of neurons which relay signals through the brain and control our bodies, minds and the most essential functions of the body. The brain is the most complex organ in the body; if one part of the brain is impacted, it can completely throw off our ability to function. If our brain is so important, why do pay so little attention to it when it is hurt?
Concussions have been on the rise over the past 10 years and are rapidly gaining awareness in today’s news headlines. From 2009 to 2018, concussions have more than tripled. They are being reported with greater frequency, and they can be complex and costly to treat. In 2018, concussion represented 8% of all allowed lost-time injuries, up from 2% in 2009 (WSIB, 2018). As awareness about concussions increases and people are able to better recognize the injury, there will continue to be an upward trend in these rates.
So, what should workers and employers know about concussion in the workplace?
What is Concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury, caused by impact to the head or body, which causes the brain to make impact with or twist within the skill. This trauma can damage cells, thereby creating chemical changes that can lead to short-term disruptions in how the brain typically functions. In Canada, workers in the public sector, heavy industry and construction are at high risk of concussion, although other sectors are also not immune to the risk.
Signs & Symptoms
There are a number of symptoms you may experience after having a concussion. These symptoms can start immediately after the injury or take a few hours or days to appear. It is common to experience physical, cognitive, emotional and/or fatigue-related symptoms due to the chemical changes in the brain. The symptoms vary between people and depend on which part of the brain the injury impacted.
Some common symptoms you may experience after a concussion are:
- Fatigue and brain fog
- Poor quality sleep
- Sensitivity to noise or light
- Poor memory and concentration
- Easily agitated
- Feeling anxious
- Blurred vision
After a prolonged period of time, psychological, emotional and biological factors stemming from the concussion may lead to post-concussion syndrome (PCS), which is the persistence of concussion symptoms. PCS can hinder the worker’s timely return to work since it can be hard to prove and identify due to lack of visible signs. Symptoms of PCS include memory problems, mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, fatigue and other cognitive concerns.
The primary cause of a concussion is an accident. Concussion in the workplace can be prevented when workers are protected from an injury to their head or body. The best way to prevent this from happening is by creating awareness, training workers and ensuring appropriate controls are put in place to prevent the causes of concussion from happening.
Want to Learn More about Concussion in the Workplace?
PSHSA is hosting a webinar on Concussion in the Workplace on Thursday, November 21, 2019 from 12:00-1:00 pm. In this webinar we will explore the signs and symptoms of concussion, the functional implications and how to approach early intervention and return to work planning in these situations. Click here for additional resources and strategies on concussion in the workplace.
Manager, Occupational Therapy
Public Services Health & Safety Association