Construction workers suffer more traumatic brain injuries than workers in any other industry according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 2,200 construction workers received fatal TBIs between 2003 and 2010, accounting for 25 percent of all construction fatalities.
Falls are by far the most common cause of TBIs. Due to the fact that construction workers often must perform their jobs in hazardous locations, such as on roofs, tall ladders, and scaffolding, they are at particularly high risk of falling.
The Mayo Clinic defines a traumatic brain injury as a blow or jolt to the head wherein an external force causes brain dysfunction. Construction workers who sustain a jobsite head injury should be aware that no matter how seemingly minor the injury appears to be, even a bump on the head can result in a concussion. The CDC reported as far back as 2003 that nearly 75% of annual TBIs are concussions, a mild form of TBI; repeated concussions can cause cumulative cognitive and neurological damage. Repeated mild TBIs ultimately can have catastrophic consequences, up to and including death.
Effects of TBIs
A TBI can lead to catastrophic physical and mental complications, lifelong disabilities and death. As the Brain Injury Association of America explains, the consequences of a brain injury are unpredictable since no two of them are exactly the same. TBI effects are complex and vary from person to person. In general, however, an injury to the left side of the brain can cause language problems, including difficulties with speaking and in understanding words. In addition, it can decrease the person’s ability to think logically and to control the movements on the right side of his or her body. Severe anxiety and depression are other common results of a left-brain TBI.
An injury to the right side of the brain can cause visual problems, including the inability to judge distance and/or remember who or what has been seen in the past. Sometimes this means that a person who has received a right-brain TBI cannot recognize family members and other people whom he or she has known for years. Such an injury also can severely reduce the person’s ability to think creatively, see the “big picture” in any situation, and control the movements on the left side of his or her body.
A diffuse TBI, one where the injuries are scattered throughout the brain, often leads to people being unable to think well, leaving them in a constant state of confusion. They cannot concentrate well and their attention span is severely reduced. TBIs also often lead to epilepsy and increased risk for diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other disorders of the brain.
Immediate TBI Treatments
Any construction worker who receives a head injury should receive immediate emergency treatment and be transported to the nearest hospital. Since virtually nothing can be done to reverse whatever initial brain damage occurred, medical personnel focus on stabilizing the patient and preventing further injury. Primary concerns are to make sure that there is proper oxygen and blood flow to the brain and the rest of the body. Blood pressure control is critical.
Once at the hospital, trauma doctors and other health care professionals strive to arrive at a correct diagnosis of the severity of the injury as quickly as possible. A TBI sufferer can expect to undergo skull and neck X-rays to check for bone fragments in the brain and/or upper spinal instability, as well as computed tomography imaging, a/k/a a CT scan, to determine the proper course of treatment.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that approximately half of severe TBIs will require surgery for ruptured blood vessels (hematomas) and/or bruised brain tissue (contusions). For all but the mildest of TBIs, prognosis can be grim at best and catastrophic at worst. Patients almost invariably are required to undergo an individualized rehabilitation program that can include medical treatment, physical and occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, psychological and/or psychiatric treatment, and needed social service support.
Lifetime TBI Costs
The Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute of Brookhaven Hospital projects that construction workers and others who suffer a catastrophic TBI in their 20s could be faced with $15-$20 million in lifetime costs, with annual costs averaging about $500,000. These are direct costs for various types of needed medical, psychological, rehabilitation, and personal care. In addition, many TBI victims suffer lifelong chronic conditions that make it impossible for them to work and contribute to their own support and care.
The hidden costs of TBI are those that affect the family of a TBI victim. Often someone in the family must quit his or her job in order to stay home and care for the disabled loved one. Not only do these caregivers lose their own means of support, they also are not paid for the care they give. Over time, they themselves often suffer unrelieved stress that can lead to physical and psychological problems. The NRI estimates that $375 billion a year is “spent” in caring for the caregivers and “paying” for the care they give to TBI victims.