Whiplash Injury: The Health and Safety Nightmare

Neck, back and whiplash injuries: HSE’s Shattered Lives campaign exposes the dangerous consequences of a slip, trip or fall at work

1000 people a month. That’s the number of workers whose lives and careers are jeopardised by serious injury following a slip, trip or fall in the workplace; sometimes there are even more. These dramatic statistics have led the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to launch a campaign, which targets both employers and employees, in order to address the urgent problems surrounding falls at work.

The Shattered Lives campaign is designed to raise awareness of risk management across professions as broad as construction, trades, site management, catering and supermarket jobs, from store managers to food operatives. Posters, booklets, and guides have been produced to cover almost all areas of health and safety guidance across all these sectors, with the addition of a new educational tool, an e-learning course for workers on the HSE’s website.

The consequences of a fall at work

Falls can happen in a whole range of different situations. A supermarket worker can slip on a wet floor, construction sites can lead workers to fall through fragile roofs or from scaffolding, health care workers can fall on stairs or slip on spills on the floor. Most disturbingly, so many falls are due to individuals improvising by using broken ladders, chairs or upturned buckets to access heights. The risks don’t seem high – but the consequences can be disastrous.

People who fall at work risk broken limbs, dislocations, hip fractures, brain trauma and neck injuries. Interestingly enough, more specific neck, back and head injuries can be the result of whiplash.

Whiplash injuries off the roads

Despite recent figures of annual whiplash claims on the roads in their 100 000s (Which?, 2008), many serious neck injuries and Whiplash Associated Disorders (WADs) caused by a whiplash accident happen off the roads – and often, inside the workplace.

If you slip or fall backwards or forwards, even at a low level, a jolt or impact to the head can generate the typical whiplash motion: as your head jolts back, the spine bends out of its normal shape, and when your head rebounds onto your chest, further damage to the delicate tissues around the neck is caused as the neck joint moves out of its normal range. The results can vary from minor injuries whose symptoms disappear in a few days, to lasting damage which displays itself as neck pain, stiffness and swelling, headaches and back pain.

Often, whiplash injury is caused when the individual tries naturally to counteract the fall, positioning the body so that the head is pushed back; unfortunately, the whiplash motion is prompted and familiar consequences ensue. It’s no wonder that these dangers have prompted the HSE to place emphasis on whiplash awareness not only on the roads, but at work too. With the right safety precautions, so many unnecessary injuries resulting from slips, trips and falls can be prevented. If you face the risk of a fall at work, make sure both your employer and your colleagues know the score.

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