There are few stories as disheartening as those of Good Samaritans who come to the rescue of others — only to have kindness repaid with a nasty lawsuit. The first inclination for many is to help our fellow man, yet, as director of the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH), I’m often asked “should I help or stay out of the way?”
Many Arizona workers spend much of their time in an office. Often, employees are parked in a chair with hands on a keyboard — hardly the path to catastrophic illness or injury. But be aware: according to the National Safety Council, some 50 workers in the U.S. are hurt on the job every minute of every day. That means office workers, too. So, how does one know when to steer clear and when to get involved when a co-worker needs help for an illness or injury?
Safety begins with being aware of risks and vulnerabilities. Are there sharp objects nearby? Have electrical cords and cables been safely tucked away? How often do employees need to lift heavy items? Are all employees aware of the location of the fire alarms and fire extinguishers? Do individuals keep personal supplies of aspirin or other necessary medications at their workstation?
Tiredness is a leading cause of workplace accidents, so it is crucial employees get adequate sleep and take breaks. The most common office injuries are sprains and strains — backaches and hamstring pulls from lifting heavy objects and the aches and pains of tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Other common injuries include falls, slips, cuts, burns and headaches or migraines from eyestrain.
Accidents do happen and the best office-workers are prepared for anything. A good rule of thumb is that if there’s doubt, just call out. Supervisors should be consulted immediately if an accident takes place or someone’s safety is of concern. If there are any questions about the severity of an injury, call 911 to get medical assistance. It is important to stay calm and to be ready to provide details and specifications of the emergency. Follow directions and stay with the injured individual until help has arrived.
If the situation requires only minor first aid and no other employees are at risk, support your co-worker as he cares for himself. Stay with the injured person and recruit someone nearby to get the first aid kit and the supervisor.
• Every second counts. Don’t hesitate to call 911 especially if the person is unconscious, not breathing, dizzy or confused, experiencing chest pain, vomiting blood, slurring their speech or severely burned.
• Try to avoid putting yourself in harm’s way when attempting to help someone else.
• Do not move someone who has fallen, unless absolutely necessary.
• Do not touch someone who has been shocked by an electrical current, but DO turn off the power if it is safe to do so.
• Do not administer medication.
• Do not remove foreign objects from a person’s body.
• If someone is choking, you can administer five quick, upward abdominal thrusts or they can lean over and press their abdomen against any firm object such as the back of a chair.
Some offices identify an “appointed person” who is equipped to take charge, call emergency responders and maintain a fully stocked first aid kit. A current list of emergency telephone numbers (police, fire, ambulance, poison control) should be displayed and easily accessible for all employees. And be sure to have family emergency information available to the supervisor, as well.
Regarding potential liability for rendering aid, be reassured that in Arizona, an individual cannot be held liable for damages when providing first aid in good faith. But, also know that not everyone who needs help will want help. In fact, touching someone who does not want help could result in legal action. So, get permission — written, verbal or even body language — before engaging.
• Jessie Atencio is director of the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH). For more information, visit www.osha.gov and download the free “Best Practices Guide: Fundamentals of a Workplace First Aid Program.”