5 Steps to Take After a Workplace Injury
November 15, 2022 @ 5:22 pm
A workplace injury can turn your life upside down. Suddenly, you can’t do your job, or you can’t work without being in extreme pain—a dangerous situation. Your earnings disappear, and hospital and medical bills threaten to consume money earmarked for the necessities of life like the mortgage and groceries. You may hope that workers’ compensation will keep you afloat. However, in many dangerous industries—construction or oil and gas, for example—collecting those benefits can be difficult. Then, what’s offered is often insufficient to meet your needs. In reality, you need to know what to do if you’re injured at work long before it actually happens.
1. Recognize that you may have a serious injury.
Injuries don’t have to look serious to be life-threatening. One of the most important realities to remember is that just because an injury doesn’t involve a lot of blood, unconsciousness or obviously broken bones doesn’t mean it isn’t a significant, life-altering injury
- You may feel something “give” in your back while you’re moving something. You may work the rest of the day only to realize later that night that you’re now unable to walk let alone work.
- You may have been pinned by a piece of heavy equipment but released quickly. Later, you experience swelling in your body and internal bleeding due to the trauma.
- You may tumble down a set of steps or trip on loose building supplies and experience a quick descent with a brutally abrupt stop. You may limp on in somewhat manageable discomfort only to find that hours later, you’re incapacitated.
At the time of injury, adrenaline is a powerful hormone. Our bodies release it directly into our bloodstream when faced with stressful or dangerous situations. It causes a reaction that’s so potent and sudden that it’s called “an adrenaline rush.” It enables the fight or flight response and can make us think that we can keep on working when we absolutely shouldn’t.
Adrenaline increases our heart rate, redirects blood and oxygen to our muscles, and makes us more alert. It can give us strength and energy that we otherwise wouldn’t have, and it can even heighten our vision and hearing.
Meanwhile, it also blocks pain—sometimes for hours or even days after an incident. The adrenaline response also causes our bodies to release endorphins—natural painkillers that are highly efficient and can mask pain partially or even completely.
You can feel okay immediately following an accident at work yet still be seriously hurt, so you need to act accordingly.
2. Get medical assistance immediately following an accident.
Employers are required to have established policies indicating what employees should do if they’re injured at work. The policy should comply with OSHA policy, but that does not mean that it will be the same as OSHA policy. OSHA policy does, however, guarantee that workers have the right to report an accident or injury and should be encouraged to do that without fear of future discrimination or retaliation.
Most employers have reporting rules stating that you must report accidents and injuries to your supervisor within certain timelines. In turn, employers must report serious incidents to OSHA. Many workers don’t realize that the reporting window can be as short as eight hours following an incident, for example.
Employers may also have set policies on where an employee must go for medical care. Company policy may specify that your supervisor will determine where you should seek care when you report the incident. The company may have an in-house or on-site care provider, or your supervisor may refer you to the nearest urgent care facility, a private practice within the company’s approved healthcare network or the local emergency room. If an accident occurs at odd hours or at a site where medical care is not readily accessible, the company should have a policy specifying where you should go or be taken.
You need to know what your company’s policies are regarding workplace injuries long before an accident finds you and follow them when it does.
Getting medical attention immediately following the incident and in accordance with company policy is crucial to ensure that your injury is recognized and documented — especially if you plan to pursue legal action. If you seek medical attention early on, you establish a direct correlation between what happened at work and your injury. The longer you wait to report an incident and seek medical attention, the more events can occur in the intervening time. If you delay, the link between the two might be portrayed as less clear, and your medical issue could actually be attributed to something else.
This does not mean that you cannot seek additional medical attention if you’re not happy with the company-provided care. If your employers’ physicians fail to recognize an injury or deny adequate care, you may want to be seen by your own physician to ensure that your injury is medically evaluated and documented.
3. Document all injuries in writing, and take accompanying photos.
If you’re injured at work, you’ll need to fill out an Employee’s Report of Injury Form. The statement at the top of this OSHA form gives clear instructions:
Employees shall use this form to report all work-related injuries, illnesses, or “near miss” events (which could have caused an injury or illness)—no matter how minor. This helps us to identify and correct hazards before they cause serious injuries. This form shall be completed by employees as soon as possible and given to a supervisor for further action.
The form asks the employee to provide a number of details about their injury or injuries as well as the circumstances that led up to and accompanied the incident. Equally important, it asks for the names of individuals who would have witnessed the incident as well as the names of any healthcare providers who immediately attended to the victim. In filling out the form, you also have a space that asks a telling question: “What could have been done to prevent this injury/near miss?”
In addition, your supervisor must fill out a Supervisor’s Accident Investigation Form. While it uses many of the same questions, it also asks whether safety regulations were in place and in use. If they weren’t, the form asks why and has a separate section for supervisors to provide recommendations on how they might prevent a future similar event.
Serious injuries require an Incident Investigation Report, but the form can be used for minor injuries and near misses as well. While the form includes information on the injury and allows for diagrams and witness lists, it devotes two of the three pages to exploring why the incident happened, work policies and safety practices in use, and how repeat or similar incidents might be prevented. This last form is especially important because, for each of the main questions addressed, a check box indicates whether additional sheets were attached to provide additional explanation. This makes it more difficult for information submitted to simply disappear.
Those checkboxes signify something important—forms often don’t leave room for details unless you attach them separately. Write down your own thorough account of the incident as soon as possible. Over time, details can become fuzzy, and some questions can make you doubt your own memory. If possible, you may want to collect written statements from co-worker witnesses. Their accounts may not only support yours but also offer additional valuable insight.
Taking photos of the injury and—if possible—the work site and conditions that contributed to the incident is just as vital. Words can only do so much to describe something, and a picture often is worth thousands of them. Pictures speak for themselves and offer undeniable proof.
4. Save all documentation, paperwork and correspondence associated with your injury.
You’re going to have a lot to keep track of, and you don’t want to lose any of it. Workplace injuries merit a file folder or other repository all of their own simply because so many different parties are involved.
- Medical records include everything from a physician’s initial assessment of the injury to tests, diagnostic imagery, periodic assessments and consultations, referrals, professional recommendations and prescriptions. Retain copies of all billing that you may receive. The assortment of emergency care, primary care physicians, specialists and various rehabilitative treatment and therapy providers, for example, all contain critical care information.
- Insurance records and correspondence document all the charges that were submitted for the injury and what was paid—and care that might have been denied. If you were forced to use your own personal health insurance, you need to save those statements and any associated billing from providers.
- Workplace documentation should include copies of your initial report regarding your injury, the incident report and the investigative report. You’ll want to save any emails, texts, letters or any other communication you may receive from your employer, your supervisory chain of command or your employer’s human resources department, for example. If you have conversations in person, virtually or by phone, you should create a dated record detailing the conversation and any verbal decisions or agreements made.
- Personal written accounts and photos that you’ve either documented yourself or collected from others are important too. They can be instrumental in keeping the story from shifting or memories from clouding. Something really did happen, and it happened to you.
Gaining access to records can be a concern for many individuals—particularly medical records. OSHA regulations state, “The employer must provide a copy of your records without cost, provide copying facilities without cost to copy your records, or loan the records to you for copying.”
5. Contact a workers’ compensation lawyer.
Putting your life and career back together again after getting injured at work can be complicated. Chasing down documents, keeping up with the decisions that corporations and insurance companies make for you, worrying about your job while you’re trying to heal and meeting the everyday life commitments you have can be exhausting.
Deadlines, corporate policies and paperwork are real, and the omission of one small detail or a naive mistake can change an outcome. An attorney that specializes in workers’ compensation understands how much is at stake and what’s required to ensure your case gets the attention needed.
The most important truth to remember is that if you are injured at work due to negligence on the part of the workplace, you may have grounds for a legal claim. You’re going to need a workers’ compensation lawyer, and sooner is best.
If you’ve been injured at work or if someone you care about is dealing with a workplace injury, now is a good time to bring in an experienced workers’ compensation attorney from the law firm of Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik. Reach out through our website, or call us for your free consultation. We know how to get you not only what you need but also what you deserve.
Access to exposure and medical records