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How do you help a co-worker with a possible spinal injury?

What do you do when you're working a construction job and one of your co-workers takes a fall off a ladder, scaffold or roof? Do you rush forward and try to administer first aid? Would that potentially make things worse?

Here's what you should do:

Assess the injured worker for a possible spinal injury

Assume that your co-worker could be seriously hurt if you see any of the following signs:

  • There's a loss in consciousness, even if he or she just seems dazed
  • There's any loss of bladder control or bowels
  • He or she landed in a contorted position
  • He or she has any difficulty moving body parts
  • The injured person is clearly in significant pain

If you even suspect spinal damage, don't move the victim. Encourage your co-worker to stay still, and don't allow anyone else to move him or her either. Call for emergency help immediately and inform the dispatcher that you suspect spinal trauma. That way, the emergency crew will know what to expect when they get there.

Administer necessary first aid

If possible, the only thing you should do is keep your co-worker calm and find a way to give his or her neck and head a little stability.

Roll up towels or shirts and place them on either side of your co-worker's neck and head to help keep them stationary. If he or she has on a hardhat, don't try to remove it.

The only time you should move your co-worker is if he or she is having trouble breathing. You can open his or her jaw to breathe into your co-workers lungs if he or she isn't breathing -- but don't attempt chest compressions. If your co-worker is choking on his or her back, you and others can roll him or her on one side -- but have several people work together so that you keep the victim's back, neck and head straight.

Keep in mind that a spinal injury can have life-long consequences. Workers' compensation may not be the only possible compensation you are due. Make sure that you explore all your legal options if you get injured.

Source: Skadefri, "First aid for neck injuries," accessed April 05, 2018

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