Ask Kathy M. Archives
A Collection of Questions and Answers from TBI Advice Expert - Kathy Moeller

Topic: Work-Related Difficulties - Safety on the Job

Question:

Dear Kathy M.,

I was injured at work about 11 months ago. I work in a very large grocery store. I know I am affected by lights and will have to work under them. I seem to have become a bumbling idiot and was wondering if it will improve or get worse. I am also concerned about being re-injured because of it. I work with knives and large electric saws. Do you know if anyone with this sensitivity has been able to go back to work? I know you touched on this subject but only about having to go into that situation sometimes, not having to work under them. Thanks for any advice you can give me.

Karry


Kathy's Response:

Dear Karry,

Safety Concerns

I'm concerned about your safety, especially given the fact you work with that kind of equipment. If I were in your situation, or if someone in my family were, I would immediately request a "reasonable accommodation" from your employer to work in another area (not with this kind of equipment), until you get your light sensitivity issue under control (if it can be controlled, that is). You may need to get a letter from your doctor.

Dark Glasses and Visors

Some things you will find if you talk to others with brain injury is that some people wear tinted glasses or even dark glasses in order to tolerate fluorescent lighting when they shop or have to be in an office with fluorescent lighting (hospitals and some doctor's offices are the worst). Like dark glasses, another thing some people wear is a visor (so the light is diffused coming from the ceiling).

I wear glasses tinted in brown and treated with what is called "photo-gray," and that helps outside and in some office light. But if I had to work in a setting like you are in, they probably wouldn't be strong enough. The problem with wearing dark glasses and operating the equipment you described is that it could become even more of a safety hazard!

It's one thing to wear dark glasses in an office, where the worst that could happen is that you bump into a chair. It's another thing altogether if you are operating dangerous equipment and can't see what you're doing because the assistive device you use to fix one problem makes working even more dangerous! If you cannot see what you are cutting or sawing, well, it's just plain unsafe. Again, if you are adversely affected by the lighting, I would recommend NOT doing the kind of work you described in this kind of this environment!

Humming Lights

I wonder if the lights have a hum to them. Some people can't hear it (or they ignore it). I can't ignore things like this any longer, and in an environment like that, I get relief from ear plugs and ear protectors (you know, the kind that workers who operate jackhammers or presses wear). Again, in your situation, you will not want to wear something that fixes one problem (in the interest of safety), and makes it unsafe to work because you can't hear things you need to be able to hear!

Visual and Auditory Overload

My understanding is that the reason some of us do not function well in environments like this, is due to what is called "visual and auditory overload" following a brain injury. It seems to be caused by the fact that some injured brains are unable to ferret out what we don't want or need (uninjured brains are better equipped to let in what's useful to us and ignoring or blocking out what is not).

Some people with brain injury find that light streaming in from half-open blinds is overwhelming; others find that ceiling fans affect them in the same way; background conversations are distracting for some. I am particularly sensitive to motion (which means I have to be particularly careful driving in the San Francisco Bay Area, where people drive differently than they do in rural Oregon). Knowing what our "new" body/brains are sensitive to can help us stay sane and safe.

Vestibular System

The way the brain integrates information and input following an injury is a special subject of interest to some professionals. Judith Bluestone, of the Handle Institute, has a particularly good reputation for being able to help people with brain injury who suffer from vestibular disorders, and you might want to check out what the Handle Institute has to offer. They have a website, so that would be a good place to start. It's at www.handle.org.

Safety FIRST! That is -- AFTER you get out of the work situation you are in! If you are worried about asking for accommodations (meaning asking for work tasks that don't put you in danger, based on your acquired sensitivity to light, etc.), please talk to a vocational counselor in your state's Vocational Rehabilitation division. Or talk to a lawyer. "Reasonable accommodations" for persons with disabilities is ensured under the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) and you should be able to use it to get out of danger.

The most important thing -- bar none -- is that you are SAFE!

Hope this helps.

Kathy M.

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