Reactionary Injuries

I wanted to talk a little bit about reactionary injuries, or injuries created due to a reaction to something unforeseen or unplanned. Maybe a load is unbalanced and starts to topple, so you attempt to stop this and injure your back in the process. Or maybe a forklift comes around a blind corner and almost strikes a person before they are able jump out of the way, so that person sustains a broken wrist. Unfortunately, this is something we frequently see in various workplaces.

The problem is not isolated to specific industries and, to be honest, there really does not appear to be a pattern in the causation of this type of injury. Who will reactionary injuries effect? The answer is simple: everyone. As with any industry or workplace, an injury, no matter what type, will affect the entire organization. Generally, the more severe the injury, the more severe the ripple effect felt across the organization.

The white elephant in the room has to be the simplest causation of this type of injury, reaction to something unplanned or unforeseen. For example, a crew is moving a large flange into position with a hoist or crane. Prior to starting the job, the crew will conduct a pre-job or toolbox safety meeting and discuss the process and “all” associated hazards with the mitigations for each. This is great, right? Unfortunately, during this discussion, they have recognized pinched/smashed fingers as a hazard, with mitigation being to keep hands and fingers clear of the load. This is a good finding, but does that really tell you anything? Also in the discussion, they mention everyone has the right to stop the job for any reason. Great! What does all this information tell you? The point I am trying to make is many times we find there is a pre-job discussion to identify hazards; however,  the hazards and mitigations are far too vague or generic to truly be helpful.

Now let’s re-write the job risk assessment and truly identify hazards and mitigations. While lowering the flange into position onto the studs, there is a possibility you could get your hands/finger pinched or caught between the studs and the flange body. Does this paint a better picture of how injury could easily occur? Let’s look at the next step, mitigation. All personnel will keep their hands clear of the studs at all times, never attempt to reach into the body, under the flange or forcibly push the flange into position over the studs. Taglines and push poles should be utilized to keep personnel clear of the pinch hazard.  If something does not look right or the studs/holes are not lining up properly, stop the job immediately. Doesn’t this give you a more thorough mitigation strategy for the identified hazard?

It makes sense if a job is competently planned to include thorough hazard identification and mitigation. That way, there will be no need for reaction to an unforeseen problem. This, in turn, eliminates reactionary injuries. Or, at the least, if there is an unplanned occurrence, personnel will have a clear understanding of how to safely react.

Another common issue surrounding reactionary injuries I have noted is there does not appear to be much in the way of tracking or trending of these specific types of injuries. You will find injury causation statistics on various categories, such as caught between, struck by, falls, failure to comply, etc., but those are not then tracked for specific causation. How many caught between or slips/trips are of a reactionary nature? If you were to go back to your organization’s incident tracking system and search for “reactionary injuries,” what would you find? For that matter, search “reactionary injuries” on and see what comes up. You might find an advertisement for an injury attorney.

In conclusion, reactionary injuries are a big deal and should be tracked and addressed as such, not just lumped into some generic category. If we don’t dig deeper and address an incident for what it is, how will we truly find the root cause to prevent the same or similar event from reoccurring in the future? Also, if you look at the simplest of causes, you will generally find job preparation will play a significant role in the injury process. As the old saying goes: “plan your work and work your plan.” This rings true in so many ways, for a safe job is an efficient job.