Emergency Room Monitoring Shows Traumatic-Injury Hazards

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CPWR - The Center for Construction Research and Training

Summary Statement

Information on common emergency room visits from construction workers, including plumbers with eye injuries and sheetmetal workers with cuts, as well as other details.
May 1998

Plumbers: The Eyes Have It

Eye injuries are more common for plumbers (and pipefitters and steamfitters) than for any other trade - 19% of plumbers' emergency-room cases. Plumbers had 5% of the emergency injury cases in the GWU survey, but 10% of the eye injuries (29 cases).

Most of the plumbers' eye injuries were from a foreign object entering the eye, which can lead to permanent damage. Injuries occurred while working overhead, soldering or welding, grinding metal, painting, or working with pressurized pipes.

These are some ways to reduce eye injuries:
  • Wear eye protection
  • Use barriers or different materials to reduce dust, metal fragments, and other particles
  • Use water to reduce dust on the job.

Sheetmetal Workers Get Cuts

Sheetmetal workers suffer a lot of cuts on the job, mainly to the hands and fingers, but also to the arm and head. Serious cuts were 46% of the injuries treated for this trade in the GWU survey. (Ninety-three sheetmetal workers were treated for 100 injuries; 7 workers had 2 diagnoses.)

Sprains and strains were the second-most-common injury for sheetmetal workers - 21 injuries. Most often, the pain was in the low back or shoulder, but also the foot, hand, and upper back.

The third-most-common injuries were to the eyes. (Sheetmetal workers, like plumbers, do a lot of their work while reaching overhead.)

The leading cause of the injuries was contact with a sharp object, usually sheet metal. The other most common causes were falls (16%), overexertion (16%), or being struck by a falling object (9%).

Emergency-Room Monitoring Shows Traumatic-Injury Hazards

Researchers at George Washington University (GWU) have been monitoring construction-worker treatment at the Emergency Department of the GWU Medical Center in Washington, D.C., since November 1990, in cooperation with CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training. After collecting information on 3,003 construction workers treated for work-related injuries in the first 7 years of the study, the researchers are summarizing their findings.

Workers don't usually go to emergency rooms for work-related sprains and strains or work-related illnesses, such as lung disease. Also, the numbers are small and the mix of work being done around the big-city hospital may not reflect all construction or all types of injuries. But the GWU research does show where efforts can be focused effectively to improve safety on the job. More than 700 construction workers are injured each workday in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Below are some facts from reports, by trade, being prepared by the researchers, Katherine Hunting and Judith Anderson of the GWU Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and Laura Welch of the Washington Hospital Center.