A study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests construction related TBI (traumatic brain injuries) make up the highest number of work related traumatic brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries can be devastating for patients, and are often linked to other side effects including memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Researchers in the study noted that traumatic brain injury is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S., but little is understood about brain injuries linked to the workplace.

Fatal Occupational Traumatic Brain Injury

To conduct its study, NIOSH researchers conducted an analysis of the Census of Fatal Occupational Injury database to calculate fatality rates in patients who were injured at work. They found that there were almost 7,300 work related TBI deaths between 2003 and 2008. The leading causes of occupational traumatic brain injury death were those involving a motor vehicle (31%), those involving a fall (29%), those involving an assault or other violent act (20%), and those involving contact with an object or equipment (18%).

According to researchers, the construction, transportation, and agriculture industries made up almost half of all occupational traumatic brain injury fatalities in the period.

“Prevention efforts should be directed at those industries with the highest frequency and/or highest risk,” researchers wrote in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “The construction industry had the highest number of TBIs, and the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry had the highest rates.”

Construction Related TBI: A Serious Concern

In a discussion of the study results, Srinivas Konda, an associate service fellow with NIOSH, noted that construction related brain injuries made up the highest number of both fatal and nonfatal work related traumatic brain injuries. Between 2003 and 2010, there were 2,210 construction workers who died due to a traumatic brain injury, making up 25% of all construction fatalities and 24% of all work related fatal traumatic brain injuries.

Additional NIOSH Findings Regarding TBI in Construction (H2)

The news is reportedly bleakest for men who work in small construction companies. Among the findings from a 2016 NIOSH study on construction related brain injuries:

  • Workers employed by small construction companies (those with fewer than 20 employees) were 2.5 times more likely to die of a traumatic brain injury than those in larger companies (those with more than 100 employees);
  • Men had seven times the risk of dying from a traumatic brain injury compared with women;
  • Workers over the age of 65 were four times more likely than younger workers (between the ages of 25 and 34 years) to suffer a fatal traumatic brain injury;
  • Falls made up more than 50% of fatal occupational TBIs; and
  • Employees working in structural iron and steel had the highest rate of fatal traumatic brain injuries.

As a result of concerns about the risk of fatal falls in the construction industry, and concerns about the risk of construction related brain injuries, NIOSH has begun a campaign to encourage stakeholders to improve safety in the industry. The organization notes that in addition to the 200 construction workers who die on the job every year in falls, another 10,000 suffer serious injuries.

“Construction is a dangerous industry, and its workers are at high risk for TBIs and their life-threatening or life-long consequences,” Konda wrote for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers Examine Role of Genes in TBI

While safety experts examine how to make the construction industry safer for employees, scientists have reportedly uncovered vital information about how head injuries lead to long-term complications. Researchers at UCLA reportedly discovered that head injuries harm a patient’s genes in such a way that the risk for long-term complications is increased.

To conduct the study, researchers trained a group of 20 rats to escape from a maze, then produced a concussion-like brain injury in 10 rats using fluids. The rats that were given the brain injury took longer than the rats that were not injured to complete the maze. Researchers then examined the genes in rats from both groups.

They found that in rats with the brain injury, up to 268 genes in the hippocampus were altered. An additional 1,215 genes in the leukocytes were also changed by the brain injury. Some of the genes found in the rats to be altered are similar to genes found in humans. Those genes are linked to Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions.

Scientists believe master genes that are affected by brain trauma can affect other genes linked to neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and other disorders. If the master genes are damaged, they can then cause other genes to become damaged as well.

“We believe these master genes are responsible for traumatic brain injury adversely triggering changes in many other genes,” said Xia Yang, a senior study author and UCLA associate professor of integrative biology and physiology.

TBIs Can Have Devastating Consequences

As researchers work to understand more about the mechanisms behind traumatic brain injuries and their long-term effects, patients who have suffered a serious brain injury are left to deal with the often devastating consequences. Professional sports organizations, such as the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Football League (NFL), face lawsuits alleging they failed to properly protect players from concussions and other brain injuries.

Meanwhile, advocacy organizations continue to work to increase awareness about the risks of construction related brain injuries.