Disability Following Construction Falls

March 9, 1999
It's little surprise that 18- to 34-year-olds are at the heart of a nationwide increase in illegal drug use, and the manufacturing industry traditionally draws heavily from this pool of job seekers.

Falls are the No. 1 killer of construction workers, and injuries from falls are often serious and disabling. During a five-month period, 630 California construction workers were injured in falls. Of those, 255 were questioned about their injuries, work history and ability to return to work in a study published in the February issue of the AAOHN Journal.

According to study author Marion Gillen, Ph.D., MPH, RN, assistant professor at the School of Nursing at the University of California-San Francisco, the number and severity of injuries did not always determine the ability to return to work. Days lost from work were related to injury severity, but that was not always a predictor of disability.

Gillen suggested that examining functional limitations might be a more accurate way to predict disability. Nearly 10 percent of the workers who participated in Gillen's study were permanently disabled or decided to leave the construction industry following their falls. Their injuries included severe injuries such as multiple fractures and complicated fractures, and surprisingly, less-severe injuries such as multiple contusions and sprains and strains.

The injured workers reported difficulty performing heavy chores in the first week following their accidents. They also reported having trouble dressing themselves and bending to pick items up off the floor. More than one-third of the workers were able to return to light or modified duty in the week following their falls.

Other interesting statistics from the study:

  • 10 percent of the workers were permanently disabled or decide to leave the industry;
  • Workers ages 30 to 34 had the greatest number of falls;
  • 60 percent of the injured workers reported a prior history of injury at work;
  • 67 percent of the workers reported a "near miss" fall in the past.

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