Serious Laceration Results from Unattended Tool and Failure to Report

Loss Amount: $152,000

Situation: A veterinary technician lacerated her palm on a scalpel that was left out on a surgical room counter following a procedure. There were witnesses to the incident, but neither the employee nor the others reported it to hospital management. Instead, the employee bandaged herself and, finishing her shift shortly thereafter, went home. The following day she went to a hospital emergency room but decided to leave after she thought the wait was too long. She was not scheduled to work for the next couple days and during this time her spouse called her employer and explained what happened.

When hearing of the incident, the employer instructed the employee to receive professional treatment, which occurred at a local occupational clinic, but by now it was three days after the incident. This delay would prove costly in many ways.

Although the employee enjoyed her job and was motivated to return to work with accommodations made by her employer, her injury did not heal properly. She repeatedly returned to her doctor for additional treatment and missed several days of work in the process. The pain in her hand then began to radiate to her arm. About three months after the accident occurred she was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSDS), a rare disorder characterized by chronic, severe pain.

After more than a year, the laceration has healed but the pain caused by RSDS persists. The employee is on a long term pain management program and has had to make permanent modifications to her job, potentially limiting future employment prospects in the industry.

Lesson Learned: What this employee started out thinking was not a very serious incident has had long term consequences. This case highlights two issues: safety dealing with sharps, and the immediate reporting of accidents. The following actions are recommended to address them:

  • Never leave sharp instruments in the open unattended. They should be in protective packaging, prepared for use or disposal on pass trays, or properly disposed of in approved sharps containers.
  • Use scalpels with safety features such as retractable blades.
  • Notify management of all accidents in the workplace, regardless of how serious they are thought to be at the time. Even knowledge of near-miss incidents can help management address an exposure that may be likely to injure someone.

For further assistance in preventing all types of losses, call VISC at 888.762.3143.