Here’s an example of how something that seems small and insignificant at first glance, could potentially lead to a major injury and costing thousands of Euro.
The Health & Safety Authority funded research into the costs and effects of workplace accidents and provided various case studies. The full report is available here.
At the time Mary was a health care worker and in her fifties. She caught her foot in a piece of torn stair carpet and fell. She was initially diagnosed with a broken finger however she subsequently developed a neurological condition and lost most of the use of her left arm. She has not returned to work and has had to retire as a result.
She tells her story; I’ve had over thirty years in this job and I’ve worked in the same residential care home for the majority of those thirty years. I’ve enjoyed my work immensely and I don’t mind telling you I was known for my dedication, service and friendliness. Over the years, I’ve raised thousands of Euro for the care home. At 7am one day in 2005, I was coming to the end of my night shift. I had been up and down the stairs of the care home countless times that night. I had passed the torn stair carpet without incident up until that point. I had one more job to do that shift, which was to get the residents up for their breakfast. The torn stair carpet had been known about for months but requests from our Health and Safety Committee to have the carpet repaired or replaced had gone unheeded.
The torn section had been repeatedly taped up by our staff, but contractors had removed the covering during renovations earlier that week. So that morning I began to walk up the stairs to get the residents up. As I walked up the first stair I tripped on the torn section of carpet and fell forward. I put out my left hand to brace my fall. As I got up I didn’t feel anything. However when I looked down I saw that the top of my ring finger, above the knuckle was now snow white in colour and bent upwards towards me. I knew straight away that I had broken my finger. I wasn’t in pain at that point and I remember thinking that I have to get the residents up for their breakfast. So, with the help of a colleague, I just took my wedding rings off, bandaged my finger and continued the job of getting the residents up.
At 9.00 am I finally left and drove myself to my GP. He told me to go to A&E, so by 9.45 am and accompanied by my husband, I received treatment in A&E. I was given two injections into my hand and remember the blood spurting out of the punctures made by the syringe. It was then that I started to feel pain in my finger and hand. The doctor made a splint for my finger and sent me home. Two weeks after the accident I began to feel pain in my shoulder as well as my finger. Then I started to slowly lose the strength in my arm.
I went back and forth to my GP, consultants and physiotherapists and all the time my hand, arm and shoulder were getting worse. During one visit they found out that I must have dislocated my shoulder during the fall. Then I was finally diagnosed with something called reflex synthetic dystrophy. I’ve been off work since. That’s over a year now and I’ve been told I will not be able to go back to work. I have no strength left in my left arm now. I can just about put my arm into my lap. My hand is always swollen. It’s red and purple in colour and feels cold all the time. I can’t lift my arm far without using my other arm to pick it up. I cannot even wear my wedding rings any more.
My arm will not be getting better, it’s going to be like this forever. It might even get worse and I’m left with this disability for good. This accident has turned my life upside down physically emotionally and financially. In physical terms I just can’t do the things I was able to do. Simple things like making the bed or using the Hoover are now beyond me. I used to enjoy knitting, but that’s gone now. I can’t shop properly. I get other people to buy all my drinks and bottles at the supermarket as they are too heavy for me to carry now. Emotionally the accident has affected me greatly.
I loved my work. I really enjoyed the company of my workmates and the residents. Now I don’t see them any more. I can’t bring myself to go to see them. The loneliness and isolation I now feel because I have no work, is difficult to bear. I’m still in touch with my workmates which is so important to me now. I still remember the residents though. When I was working there, they were always asking after me, they were like family to me. I was always looking out for them and them for me. It makes me so sad to think I had another eight years left before I was to retire. And now I’m just left here, forgotten, after all those years of dedicated work and service.
Financially, I’m a lot worse off now. I get my sick pay but I’ve lost all the extra payments I used to get. So all my overtime payments, night work payments, money for working long weekends and bank holidays, that’s all gone now. Also I have my visits to the consultants and physiotherapists to get to and pay for. All my savings are now gone. I need to buy a car with automatic gear change but how can I afford that?. The doctors have told me I won’t be going back to work, so now I have to live on what I get. Sometimes I feel so sad but sometimes I feel so incredibly angry. No one from management has come to see how I am, or how I’m getting on. They have done nothing for me.
All this pain and suffering because of a torn stair carpet. Management knew it was torn and did nothing about it. They even said the carpet was too expensive to replace and to think I used to raise money for the home. Now look at me, I’m just left here with my disability.
Total employee costs €27,072
€7,572 Lost salary
€12,500 Lost overtime payments
€7,000 Medical and travel expenses.
Total employer costs €21,824
€10,912 Salary costs of injured employee
€10,912 Salary costs of replacement staff