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NSLS ESH Highlight #46

Even a Splinter Can Provide Lessons Learned

Date: April 3, 2009
Editors: N. Gmür, S. Hoey and W.R. Casey

The Event

Recently, a colleague of ours was walking along an aisle in a work area. One side of the aisle was bordered by a wooden crate. The worker's thigh brushed up against the lid of the crate. A wooden splinter entered his right thigh, through his jeans. He removed the splinter, which was about 1" long, and continued working. He did not visit BNL's Occupational Medicine Clinic (OMC) at the time because he believed that he had removed the entire splinter and the injury did not warrant a visit to the OMC.

Some two weeks later, the worker noticed a reddening around the site of the original injury. He scheduled visits to the OMC and his personal physician, who determined that a portion of the splinter was still in the worker's thigh; the splinter was later removed when hot compresses were applied to the site of the injury. The physician prescribed an antibiotic to counteract the infection. The prescription resulted in this injury being classified as a Recordable Injury. There were no lost work days as a result of this injury.

What Can Be Learned From this Event?

  1. Notify your supervisor and visit the OMC as soon as possible after incurring a work-related injury, no matter how minor it seems.

    One of the problems with apparently minor work-related injuries is that they may not be so minor! Don’t ignore injuries or assume they are not important. If an injury is not properly treated by an OMC nurse or physician in a timely fashion, there is a chance that it might worsen. In the case described above, a visit to the OMC would have likely resulted in full removal of the remaining splinters and the prevention of a subsequent infection. Remember to inform your supervisor so he/she is made aware of the injury and can help you get to the OMC. These reminders are given to all new staff members at their initial ESH briefing.
  2. Pay attention to your surroundings, look where you are going and do not give up critically examining your area for "hidden" hazards.

    Over time, we all get used to and become comfortable in our surroundings or with the work we may be doing, and we may not consistently do something as simple as watching where we are going or examining our work areas. Small things may change and new hazards may appear that can easily be overlooked. In the case above, the aisle was wide, providing the worker with room to maneuver. A momentary distraction, thinking of something else, or looking elsewhere as you walk down an aisle can result in unintended consequences. In this case, the worker followed up with excellent action so as to protect his fellow workers; he placed a barrier along the length of the crate.

The Human Performance Improvement "Am I Ready?" Checklist can help us:

  1. Do I understand the task?
  2. Can I do it safely?
  3. What error likely situations exist?
  4. What error reduction tools will I use?
  5. What can go wrong?
  6. What's the worst that can happen?
  7. What conditions stop this task?
  8. Am I qualified and ready to start work?