Preventing common injuries on walking-working surfaces

By: Ray Chishti

Publication: Construction Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 08/29/2022

Normal aches or pains might be a sprain or strain

Sprains and strains are common jobsite injuries. Employers and workers can take certain steps to reduce exposure to these injuries. These include:

  • The employer should perform a jobsite audit to help workers identify work activities that increase their risk for sprain and strain injuries.
  • During safety planning meetings, employers should discuss these injuries, hazards, and exposure prevention from certain work activities. Supervisors should ensure that corrective actions are in place to prevent these injuries before workers begin working.
  • Employers and workers should be able to recognize symptoms of a sprain and strain injury. Workers often assume aches and pains are normal and wait too long to get first aid, often making their injury worse.

First aid basics every employer and worker should know

Sprains and strains are two different injuries but have common symptoms and treatment. A sprain is a torn or stretched ligament between two bones. For example, if an employee is complaining about pain in their ankle area, it may be a sprain.

On average, sprains take longer to heal than strains do. Depending on the severity of the injury, a strain can take one week to heal, whereas a sprain may take from two to four weeks to heal. Knowing this difference can help employers understand an injured worker's recovery time.

Workers often return to work too early, immediately after the first sign of feeling better, often worsening their injury and prolonging their recovery time. Employers should use the RICE method when administering first aid to an injured worker. RICE stands for rest, ice, compress, and elevate.

Workers must take rest, being careful not to bear any weight on the injured area. Applying unnecessary weight to the injured area will cause further aggravation and injury. Ice, pain-relief patches, and an elastic-medical bandage should be applied over the injury to help reduce pain and swelling. Ensure the bandage isn't wrapped too tightly, or blood circulation could be restricted. Finally, attempt to elevate the injured area above the level of the worker's heart. This reduces pain, throbbing, and swelling. Seek medical advice and have the worker observed by a medical professional if any acute pain develops or symptoms don't improve.

Watch out for these two common causes of sprains and strains at your jobsite.

Sprains and strains can occur anywhere on a jobsite. When workers came to me about these types of injuries, most times, the injury occurred while lifting something or when stepping down from a vehicle or equipment. Knowing this, I assessed work tasks at my jobsites and implemented these corrective actions:

  • Make sure that all equipment, like cranes and forklifts, and vehicles, like pick-up trucks, sport utility vehicles, and vans, have an intermediate step. This will prevent workers from over-reaching while stepping off equipment or down from a vehicle.
  • Make sure that steps on equipment and running boards on vehicles are not worn, broken, or defective. You can use ladders or mobile stairs to assist workers with accessing and egressing equipment.
  • Workers should use mechanical means when lifting anything weighing more than 50 pounds. Often, workers may become victims of human error traps, thinking that other workers will look down on them or make fun of them for using a forklift or a crane to lift something heavy. Having a universally applied safety policy in place, and requiring workers to use mechanical means, may prevent this from occurring.
  • Be careful while using team lifts. Often, one worker will over lift one side too high, causing the load to distribute unevenly to the other worker. This uneven shift of weight can injure the other worker.

A stretch and flex program aims to prevent workers from suddenly jumping into physical labor activities, from a rested state, without first warming up their muscles. A quick warm-up will ready workers' bodies for increased physical demand.

Key to remember: A strain is a stretch or tear to muscle or tendons that connect to bones. If a worker is complaining about pain in their lower back area, it may be a strain.

About the author
Ray Chishti - EH&S Editor

Ray is an editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. and has over 12 years of EH&S experience in a variety of industries, including EPC projects, fossil fuel power plants, gas distribution and transmission, and electrical transmission work.

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