Construction Work and Traumatic Brain Injuries

Construction worker with his head in hands head injury, headache, possible traumatic brain injury from incident on a construction site, construction worker in a hard hat

When we picture a construction worker, we often imagine an orange-vested laborer in a bright yellow hardhat. The daily safety gear of workers in the construction industry is iconic, but do we ever truly consider the implications behind them? The fact is that construction work is not only difficult and labor-intensive but also exceedingly dangerous. Let’s discuss the main reason construction workers don those bright yellow hardhats: traumatic brain injuries.

What is A Traumatic Brain Injury?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when the head or skull receives direct physical trauma. However, not all head traumas produce the same level of injury. Some TBIs result in relatively minor symptoms and are temporary or short-term. Others have devastating effects and extensive brain damage, resulting in permanent catastrophic injury or death. It is crucial to note that it’s nearly impossible to determine a TBI based solely on the blow’s severity or the symptoms alone. Therefore, please seek immediate medical care if you or a loved one have experienced head trauma.

TBI Symptoms

Traumatic brain injury symptoms can vary substantially between individuals. However, TBIs are notable by their symptom duration. If your symptoms persist two weeks or longer after the initial injury, it could point to brain damage.

Here are the most common symptoms associated with TBIs:

  • Persistent headaches or migraines
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Disorientation and dizziness
  • Loss of balance
  • Confusion or fogginess
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Vision changes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Mood swings
  • Behavioral changes

Closed vs. Penetrating vs. Acquired TBI

A closed TBI is the result of blunt force trauma directly to the skull. This occurs when the head is either snapped into a surface or when an object collides with the head. Here are a few examples of closed TBIs:

  • Concussion: A brain injury caused by an impact to the head that accelerates the brain into the opposite side of the skull. In short, concussions shake your brain. They can also range from mild to severe.
  • Brain Contusion: A bruise on the brain or mild bleeding under superficial tissues ranging from mild to severe. Contusions have a chance to cause pressure on the brain and may have to be surgically removed if the bleeding does not stop or pressure becomes too much.
  • Intracranial Hematoma: A rupture of a blood vessel or vessels that results in blood pooling either in the brain tissue itself or in the surrounding space. These are highly dangerous as they put incredible pressure on the brain, eventually depriving other parts of the brain of blood and oxygen.
  • Skull Fracture: The skull is cracked or broken in one or more places. The degree of the injury determines the treatment.

A penetrating TBI occurs when an object forcibly pierces the skull and causes direct damage to the brain tissue. This happens when objects collide with and pierce the skull. There are two types of penetrating TBI injuries: high velocity and low-velocity injuries. A high-velocity injury is usually attributed to gunshots or skull penetration due to high-speed vehicle accidents. However, construction workers are more likely to encounter low-velocity injuries in which items such as nails, bolts, shrapnel, blades, and bars penetrate the skull.

When complicated skull fractures occur and pieces of the skill damage the brain, this is also considered a penetrating TBI. Penetrating TBIs can be some of the most devastating due to the chance of catastrophic bleeding due to through-and-through wounds or wounds when the penetrating item ricochets inside the skull.

An acquired TBI is an injury that occurs due to a traumatic skull impact, but not necessarily directly. Acquired TBIs can take days, weeks, or even months to materialize and occur as a result of initial head trauma. Here are two examples of acquired TBIs:

  • Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI): This injury happens when the brain is shaken in the skull, similar to a concussion. However, with a DAI, the damage is not attributed to a direct blow but instead derives from intense twisting and shaking of the skull. These movements cause axons—long connecting fibers in the brain—to tear away.
  • Anoxic Brain Injury: This occurs when the brain is not receiving enough oxygen to properly operate. Deprived of oxygen, brain cells begin to die within just four to five minutes. This typically occurs due to a blockage preventing oxygen-carrying blood from circulating to the area.

Primary vs Secondary TBI

A primary TBI refers to the initial injuries received from the initial traumatic event. However, a secondary TBI occurs when a person gets an additional TBI following a previous, especially if the prior TBI has not fully healed. This typically results in catastrophic injuries that could permanently affect an individual’s way of life. A well-known example of secondary TBI is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is mainly caused by frequent concussions and can forever alter a person’s behavior or brain function.

How Do TBIs Happen in Construction Work?

The risk of attaining a TBI while working in the construction industry is nearly double compared to any other industry—hence the dire need for the iconic hardhats. The most common reason for TBIs being falls and blunt trauma from moving objects.

Here are a few specific examples of how TBIs can occur during construction jobs:

  1. Falling through unmarked floor openings
  2. Falling from unsecured ladders
  3. Falling from or being caught in collapsing scaffolding
  4. Struck by work vehicles
  5. Struck by moving cranes
  6. Struck by dropped hand tools or materials
  7. Struck by shrapnel from hand saws, hammers, etc.
  8. Slips on spilled substances such as oil, chemicals, etc.
  9. Trips on loose cords, misplaced tools, and shifting materials
  10. Losing oxygen due to collapsed trenches, resulting in an acquired TBI
  11. TBI caused by damage sustained from electrocution

Will I Be Able to Return to Work After a TBI?

This difficult question does not have a definitive answer. Due to the varying severity of TBIs, it’s impossible to have a blanket answer for every individual. Statistically, most TBI survivors find it very difficult to return to any semblance of a structured work environment. In fact, they may not even have the ability to be socially independent and must rely on others for support. TBIs impact your brain’s relationship with your body, effectively changing how it communicates entirely. This can result in an inability to move certain body parts, speak, feed yourself, bathe, and more. You may even experience incredible difficulty concentrating, making it infinitely harder for you to return to work safely.

What Are My Legal Options?

If you or a loved one are in the construction industry and have suffered a traumatic brain injury, you may want to acquire the services of a personal injury lawyer. We will work tirelessly to ensure that you receive all due compensation to support you in your recovery, whether it be related to medical expenses, lost wages, disability, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and more. If you would like to talk to a personal injury expert today, fill out a free case evaluation with Cooney & Conway to see how we can help.