Susan was getting ready to work in the microbiology lab. She sat down after donning her lab coat, but before she put on gloves, she picked up some reports that were on the counter. As she picked them up, she noticed she got a small paper cut on her finger. Thinking nothing of it, she put her gloves on and went to work.

Chuck opened the door to walk into the back of the main lab. A cardboard box was in the walkway, and Chuck hit it with his toe and fell to his knee. He figured he wasn’t hurt, so he didn’t say anything since filling out paperwork was such a nuisance- and no one saw it happen.

Jean was walking into the hospital during the ice storm to get to work. Shortly after she closed the car door, she slipped and landed on her wrist. It hurt a little, but she figured it would be fine, so she didn’t say anything.

Accidents happen often in the laboratory setting, and many of them go unreported. The first thing that should occur after an injury is first aid. Then the incident needs to be reported. That may mean telling someone in charge in the department- a supervisor or a manager. That can vary depending on the department and the time of day. Next, the incident needs to be reported to Occupational Health (or Employee Health) or to a Nursing Supervisor if the Occ Health office is closed. This step is vitally important.

At some work places, an injury can be reported via an electronic reporting system, but many locations still use paper forms as well. The sooner the details of the incident are described, the better the follow-up will be for you and for anyone else who may be injured in the same way.

We are human, and accidents happen, but the route to a better safety culture in the department is transparency. All injuries at work need to be reported. There is no shame in an injury, there should be no reprisals, and reporting leads to prevention of more injuries. The communication about the event is crucial- the reporting may prevent someone else from being injured in the same way. Having an incident occur because no one reported a previous event can and should always be avoided. There are other reasons to report injuries as well…those stories at the beginning of the article did not have a happy ending…because they were not reported.

After a week, Susan noticed that her little paper cut had become red and swollen. She made an appointment with her physician who prescribed an antibiotic. The antibiotic didn’t work, and after a serious bout of septicemia, Susan had to have part of her hand amputated to prevent the spread of the rare bacterial infection.

A day after Chuck tripped, Elaine walked into the lab and tripped on the same cardboard box. Elaine fell hard and broke her hip. She needed immediate surgery. She would have retired in another month.

 

Two weeks after her fall in the parking lot, Jean decided to go to the urgent care since her wrist was still hurting. An x-ray revealed a fracture that would need a surgical repair. Jean went to the Employee Health office to report the event. Because there was such a delay in reporting, the compensation department decided they could not honor the claim, and Jean’s medical follow-up was not covered.

There are many reasons to report an injury at work. The first one is about you- protect your health and your future- that’s worth a few minutes of paperwork and a short visit to the Employee Health office. The second reason to report is about everyone else. If something is unsafe in your environment and it has caused an injury, let someone know. That sort of communication and transparency is important to the entire team. Accidents happen, but even when they do, we can respond quickly and communicate so that safety improves in the department after the event.