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The 911 Dilemma

It’s happened to most of us. We’re at a job site and someone gets hurt. We’re not sure how badly the employee is hurt or if we should call 911. Sometimes when an incident occurs, we think it might be better to take the injured employee to a care facility rather than call 911 for emergency assistance. If you ever find yourself in this predicament, there are two simple guidelines to help you decide what to do. First and foremost, remember to do no further harm. If there is any chance that you could cause the employee additional injury by taking him or her to get medical care, call 911 for professional help at the job site. Second, there are three types of injuries that always necessitate medical personnel capable of advanced care. Always call 911 when any of the following are involved.

1. Electrical Contacts
No matter how slight the injury may seem, individuals trained only in basic life support are incapable of correctly diagnosing the extent of the damage done to someone who has suffered an electrical shock. Since the key to surviving heart damage caused by such a shock is prompt access to advanced lifesaving techniques, never try to transport an employee to the hospital by yourself. Always call 911 for help. Here is a real-life example to consider: An apprentice working at the base of a pole brushed a guy wire that was in contact with an energized conductor. He was walking around, but he was not speaking coherently. The crew foreman put the apprentice in his truck and took him to the hospital. En route, they got stuck in traffic gridlock caused by an overturned truck. The apprentice lost consciousness. The foreman called 911, but the ambulance was delayed due to the traffic. Fortunately, the apprentice in this case responded to CPR, yet the crew foreman’s decision clearly put the already injured apprentice in harm’s way.

2. Skeletal and Spinal Injuries
While there are rare occasions when a hurt employee with possible skeletal or spine injuries must be moved in order to perform lifesaving CPR procedures, an employee with any possibility of spinal or skeletal injury, and who is still breathing, should always be transported to a care facility by ambulance and attended to by trained medical responders. In New Hampshire, OSHA cited a company for failing to call 911 when an employee fell more than 11 feet from a mezzanine to a concrete floor, resulting in broken bones and head trauma. The cited employer picked the employee off the floor, put him in a wheelchair and wheeled him to the loading dock of the facility. They then called relatives to retrieve him from the facility. These actions clearly exposed the injured employee to further harm.

3. Employees Rendered Unconscious
Employees sometimes lose consciousness while working on a job site. This may be the result of a blow to the head, heart disease, heat-related illness or other condition. You should always call 911 when someone loses consciousness. In New Hampshire, an employee in a remote location was struck in the head by a pneumatic hose that broke free from its mount. Although the employee was wearing the required PPE, he was still rendered unconscious. The crew decided to take him into town for aid. By that time, he was conscious and communicating with them. Still, OSHA cited the employer for “transporting the employee in a vehicle while not under the care of emergency medical services.” Even though the employee was professing to be all right, immediate contact with emergency medical services would have helped to ensure that the employee received proper care much sooner.

In summary, making the decision to call 911 when necessary better protects our employees. Before a potentially life-threatening situation occurs, have a response plan in place and be sure all workers know when they must call for emergency services.

About the Author: Kelly Sparrow, CUSP, J.D., works as a consultant for Ambient Safety LLC. He has extensive experience teaching safety leadership principles, investigating serious industrial and third-party injuries, and laying safety foundations that encourage employees to form a safety culture.

Author’s Note: Special thanks to the OSHA compliance office in Concord, N.H., for providing case studies for this Tailgate Topic.

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