According to Headway, the brain injury charity, one million people attend accident and emergency departments each year having suffered a physical trauma to the head; that is one in 65 people. Many of those one million people will get to go home with a headache or mild concussion on the same day – those are the lucky ones.
Not implementing the basics of workplace health and safety
In September 2015, the warehouse manager for a large houseware company, Probus Creative Housewares in Staffordshire, suffered a devastating head injury after falling 4.5 meters onto a concrete floor . The man had been standing on a pallet raised by a forklift truck to access a storage rack at height. With one foot on the racking and the other on the pallet, the pallet suddenly gave way, leading to the fall. He was knocked unconscious and, on admission to hospital was placed into a medically induced coma for 11 days. After further assessment, it was clear that he had suffered a serious brain injury, from which he was unlikely to recover full function; meaning he would also be unable to return to work. Following an investigation by environmental health officers from Cannock Chase District Council, a number of serious failings were discovered:
- an overreliance by the company on individuals with no formal experience or competence in health and safety;
- considerable pressure placed on employees to quickly turn around deliveries and dispatch orders with minimal mechanical handling assistance;
- inadequate and unsafe racking;
- individuals placed in positions of responsibility with little knowledge or experience, and;
- condoning of unsafe working practices by senior managers.
The employer pleaded guilty to four breaches of the Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act, and Management of Health, the Safety at Work Regulations, and the Work at Height Regulations. The failings centred around lack of proper risk assessments, inadequate training, and not planning and supervising work at weight – all factors we see so often in the compensation claims we manage.
As a result of their negligence, Probus Creative Housewares was handed a fine of £240,000 and £20,000 in costs. Srdjan Urosevic, Probus’s Managing Director, was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 costs.
The long-term prognosis for those who have suffered a brain injury
The effects of a brain injury are highly variable from person to person, depending on a range of factors such as the precise part of the head that suffered the impact, the type of object that caused the injury, the force of the impact, and if the individual was wearing a safety helmet. Following immediate surgical intervention, and the subsequent medical care, a long period of rehabilitation is often required to regain some of the function that has been lost. Rehabilitation in the form of physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, neurological therapy, and occupational therapy, can help to return lost motor, speech and cognitive functions. In many cases, those affected by head injuries do not fully recover, and must learn to live with deficits relating to:
- sustaining attention
- understanding instructions
- short, medium or long-term memory
- executive functioning – the combination of skills needed to carry out a task
- mood & behaviour
- senses and perception
- motor control – from small movements (such as holding a pen) to large actions such as walking
- communication (verbal and non-verbal)
Some may be able to live a reasonably normal life, with the aid of assistive equipment, however, others may be highly reliant on the support of carers to carry out basic day to day functions. In short, there is no ‘typical’ outcome.
Causes and mitigations of head injuries in the workplace
Head or brain injuries can occur due to a range of factors in the workplace, but falling from height, being hit by an object, and being hit by a moving vehicle are the most common causes. However, the primary reason for accidents that lead to serious brain injuries in the workplace is inadequate risk assessment. Every situation in which a worker might be exposed to danger must be identified before the task is undertaken, and a detailed risk assessment completed. Where possible, the risk should be completely removed, and if this is not possible, methods used to mitigate or reduce the potential for harm. Solutions such as clear signage warning of danger, provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), redesigning a work task, using safety equipment to complete a task, cordoning off dangerous areas if workers are vulnerable, improving supervision, a robust system for the reporting of potential risks, tool tethering, strict enforcement of adherence weight limits for lifting equipment/platforms, and ensuring level flooring, are just a few ways to minimise the risk of head injuries.
The message is clear; there is no excuse for complacency when it comes to dangers in the workplace – the potential cost is simply too high to bear.
At Russell Worth Solicitors we specialise in personal injury claims. If you have suffered a workplace injury and would like a free claim assessment, please call us now on 0800 028 2060 or complete our Online Claim Assessment.