Workplace accidents cut into your bottom line

Effective treatment saves time, money and productivity
Dr. G. Duncan Finlay
May 13, 2010
COMMERCIAL, RETAIL, AUTO, FABRICATION : SAFETY

On the jobsite, around the office and in the manufacturing plant, accidents cause bleeding injuries every single day. One might think that a cut finger here, a lacerated forearm there might not be major injuries but, overall, these small injuries can significantly impact a company’s bottom line.

According to reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cuts, lacerations and punctures are the third leading cause of lost time/days away from work in the United States. In broad industry segments involving reported cases, construction (15.4 percent) and manufacturing (11.9 percent) ranked second and third behind leisure/hospitality (15.6 percent).

In 2007, glass and glazing contractors recorded 303 incidences per 10,000 employees in relation to nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work. While that may not sound like a lot, 25 percent of those were related to cuts, punctures and lacerations.

Please note, these numbers are reported cases and the actual total number of workplace injuries is much higher. While some cuts and lacerations are reported, most are not and it is these type of injuries that can lead to higher, unexpected costs.

What is it costing the glass industry? Potentially plenty. According to the BLS, cuts and lacerations that are not properly treated initially often become infected and can cost more than $6,000 in related medical expenses such as healthcare claims and lost employee time.
According to several insurers, business owners and physicians, while accidents will occur, the associated costs don’t necessarily have to.

“As a physician, I see how workplace accidents impact the injured, insurance companies and business owners in several ways,” said Dr. Brian Skrainka, Dallas. “In the emergency room, many patients we treat could have avoided the trip all together if they would have received first aid on the jobsite. In some cases when treating cuts, we use the same bleeding control products found in a typical occupational health first-aid kit.

“Second, for those who don’t get any treatment at all, we frequently see them at our offices because their open wound has become infected," Skrainka said. “In many cases, effective and prompt treatment of a bleeding wound immediately after an injury can safely return an employee to his place of work with minimal downtime.”

Tools of the trade

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that companies have first-aid supplies on hand that are “readily available” to provide relief for skin cuts, lacerations and punctures. However, with any tool of the trade, the kit is only as good as the products within it, the people who know how to use it and the corporate policy to administer it.

“Securing the safety of our employees first is a mission of our leadership,” says Dave McCutcheon, vice president, Florida operations, for PGT Industries, a window and door manufacturer with locations in N. Venice, Fla.; Salisbury, N.C.; and Lexington, N.C. “We care about the health and safety of our employees and strive to ensure that our behaviors, actions, and processes consistently reinforce the principle of safety first. A strong safety policy ensures higher productivity by eliminating the potential for downtime due to accidents or injuries.”

Every company should designate a safety officer to coordinate four important items:

  • Continually review first-aid kits to ensure that its contents are always in stock. While one can’t predict when an injury will occur, you can ensure that the right product will be ready when it does.
  • Be knowledgeable about what each product accomplishes in the first-aid process. While he or she doesn’t have to be a medical professional, the employee should know which product should be used for a specific injury.
  • Training of employees on what is available within the first-aid kit, what the products accomplish and how to use them to provide prompt treatment. Include “Proper First Aid or Treating Bleeding Wounds” as a topic in your next safety meeting. This is especially important when employees are out in the field, have kits in their trucks and need to respond immediately.
  • Create a protocol for handling bleeding injuries and communicate the process to all employees.

However, even if all of the above is accomplished, accidents in the workplace will still occur. Then it’s time to put all of your learning to work.

There are many types of cuts – from minor paper cuts and nicks to major cuts/lacerations down to the bone – and it’s important to know the tools to effectively treat them. With minor cuts, a simple bandage may be all you need. For the major cuts and punctures, which expose bones or tendons, immediately contact your safety manager to get proper medical attention. In between these extremes are a variety of cuts, lacerations and other external bleeding wounds.

When a bleeding wound occurs, experts agree that prompt attention should be given to stop the bleeding. However, in many instances, this doesn’t happen as employees who suffer a cut will continue to work thinking that the injury is too minor for medical attention. In some cases, the injury becomes infected as contaminants enter the open wound. As a result, the worker misses days from work and productivity is lost.

In treating a bleeding wound, most traditional protocols recommend:

  • Remain calm. The sight of blood – small or large – can cause anxiety when important decisions need to be made.
  • Contact a supervisor or safety manager. This may be done by the injured worker or a colleague “who goes for help.”
  • Clean wound if possible to remove glass, dirt and other substances. Ideally, this would be done under running water  versus using a towel or rag that may be unsanitary or push foreign matter deeper into the cut.
  • Using gauze, apply pressure over bleeding site until bleeding is controlled.
  • Cover the wound with a bandage to protect the open wound.
  • Seek medical attention for deeper wounds that need suturing.
  • Monitor the wound to guard against infection.

New wound care technologies

In the treatment of wounds, today’s technological breakthroughs are enabling glass professionals to get back on the job safely with minimal downtime after a cut or laceration occurs. In fact, some new products now available in your first-aid kit have been clinically proven safe and effective and are used in leading hospitals.

One of the breakthroughs is a product that stops bleeding instantly. Called WoundSeal, the product is a topical powder comprising a hydrophilic polymer and potassium ferrate that is poured directly onto a bleeding wound. When poured on the wound and light pressure is applied, the power creates an instant scab -- an external scab -- that stops the bleeding in less than 15 seconds and seals the wound.

The seal is waterproof, creates a microbial barrier over the wound surface to protect from further infection and falls off naturally as the wound heals. Since the scab is produced so quickly, there is no need to add anti-bacterial creams or ointments to the process and, in many cases, bandages aren’t required. It can be used for cut, lacerations and skin punctures. A special applicator delivers the powder to treat nosebleeds, head wounds and other hard-to-reach areas.

From the hospital ER to the first-aid kit comes a second wound treatment product called a non-adherent dressing pad. While this type of product may not stop bleeding instantly, it has definite benefits over using gauze.

Traditional treatment protocols for treating bleeding call for gauze to be used to cover a wound once it stops bleeding. However, more times than not, gauze with its woven mesh fabric absorbs the blood but can become imbedded into the wound. A non-adherent pad is less likely to stick to the wound and is easier to remove without disrupting the wound. Note, some pads contain a rubber latex coating, which may cause allergic reaction to some.

When using a pad for minor cuts, medical tape may be necessary to keep it in place. For deeper lacerations, it is recommended that compression or pressure dressing be used.

It’s a certainty that injuries in the workplace will occur. However, with the right safety policies, products in the first-aid kit and training, minor injuries can be minimized. As a result, workers in the field or factory can spend less time in the ER and employers can minimize downtime while improving productivity. Through traditional means, or the latest technology advancements, treating cuts and lacerations will be a vital tool in preventing such injuries to cut into anyone’s bottom line.

The author is the chief medical officer of Biolife, Sarasota, Fla., 941/360-1300, duncan.finlay@verizon.net.