Injured at work, a personal journey…
As a much younger person, I hurt my back at work. I did not think much of it at the time, and I did not report it. Over the following weeks and months, the pain and discomfort increased, back spasms started to become a regular occurrence and I was forced to stop doing the things I loved – exercise, rock climbing, running and basketball.
It turned out I had a ruptured a disc in my lumbar spine and for the next 18 months I dealt with chronic pain, frustration, and mental health issues, mostly stemming from not being able to do the things I loved.
In the lead up to the birth of my first daughter, I had moments where I was genuinely fearful, that I would not be able to hold her.
Cutting a long, long story short – I went through extensive rehab, Pilates, core strengthening, osteo, physio, chiro, the occasional witch doctor, and all manner of other therapists. Not to mention the dollars I spent, to eventually get back to a point where life felt normal again. I have been fitter and stronger than that, ever since.
Not long after my recovery, however, I had one of the worst days of my professional career. I was working on a construction project when I got a call that a worker, Will (not real name), had fallen into a trench. After chatting with colleagues, we decided that I would go to the hospital to meet the injured worker and his family and provide whatever support I could. I will never forget sitting with Will and his family; Him in a neck brace and in severe pain; the family in shock and obviously distressed. And me, completely at a loss for what to say or do. Will would never come back to work or regain the full use of his limbs after sustaining serious nerve damage. The impact on him and his family was profound. The impact on me and first responders to his accident, was also long-lasting.
What did I learn? Why do I mention these stories?
Because I could have been Will! You could be Will! Any of us could be Will!
My injury was not because of a fall. And although I work in construction, I do not work in trenches. But the potential impacts on my life could certainly have been similar. I got just a small taste of what it is like to suffer a debilitating injury in the workplace. But I am fortunate enough, and extraordinarily grateful, to now be fit, happy and healthy. I did get to hold my baby daughter. And wrestle, play and jump on the trampoline with her. I also ride bikes, swim in the ocean and will hopefully have many more adventures with my family in future.
It is likely that Will will not have that ever again. Or at least not unhindered or unencumbered by his injury.
I am sure many of our readers will have comparable stories and firsthand experiences along these lines. For my Safety Professional network, it is why we do what we do. We have seen the “bad” side of workplace injuries and will do whatever we can to prevent similar occurrences.
For the non-safety folk out there, there are few lessons we can take from these stories.
1. Do the simple things – like hazard identification and reporting – well.
While vastly different circumstances, both Will’s and my incidents had clear warning signs of where things might go wrong. We missed them, and so did our team.
2. Focus on training and competency
I made a mistake when I injured myself. I made that mistake because I did not know any better at the time. As Employers, the training and competency of our people should be one of the most critical elements or our business.
3. Foster Discomfort Reporting
If you are injured at work, however minor you feel it is, report it. Firstly, it will mean you are supported through your recovery if needed by Workcover and secondly, it provides us with chance to investigate and address the cause of the injury before it hurts someone else.
4. Workplace injuries have wide-ranging consequences
Workplace injuries impact individuals physically, mentally, and economically, this is extended more broadly when you consider the impact on their colleagues and families. Offer debriefing to first responders and the family members of those who have been impacted by injuries and illnesses.
5. Complete Risk Assessments
Plan works with risk management at the forefront. Provide proper support to workers. Especially those who are injured at work.
We must all work together to prioritise safety. By doing all these things, we can create safer, more supportive workplaces. And hold onto our skilled staff, because they want to work for Employers and Colleagues who care about one-another.
We might never be able to prevent all serious incidents. But if these stories do nothing else, I hope they serve as a reminder of the impacts of workplace injuries on our colleagues, families, and friends.
I am reminded every day how lucky I am, Phil.