As companies continue to search for ways to off-set the increasing cost of doing business, minimizing workman compensation costs is an effective way to reduce medical costs. When an employee sustains an on the job injury, the potential cost to the company can be significant. It is estimated, the cost incurred by the company to treat an injury from onset to return to unrestricted work is around $70k thus requiring companies to produce more goods to help offset work comp costs. The industrial or work comp setting has evolved over the years and has become a good fit for Athletic Trainers or AT’s. AT’s possess a variety of skills commonly used to help treat aches and pains, manage symptoms and minimize lost work time.
The Industrial Medicine program at the Center for Physical Rehab is designed to help employees transition from formal Physical Therapy to full unrestricted work duties. Although employees may meet their physical therapy goals, they may still lack the necessary strength and ROM for them to return to unrestricted work activities. Once enrolled in a work conditioning / work hardening program, an AT will design a customized program that includes a variety of activities the employee will need to perform once they return to work. AT’s also provide guidance to the employee with verbal instructions to ensure employees perform these tasks with proper lifting and movement techniques to minimize the risk of re-injury.
CPR, also provides onsite AT services to the companies we work with. AT’s that spend time onsite, may lead pre-shift and post break stretching routines, provide ergonomic education, job coaching, and job specific stretches to employee to name a few. AT’s may also be asked to speak with employees in a group setting prior to the start of their shift. Topics may include a review of proper lifting techniques, job specific stretches as well as general educational information to minimize injury risk. IN addition to those “work related” injuries, AT’s also treat “personal” injuries that employees may sustain when performing activities such as yard work or other activities outside of the job setting.
Although a large portion of the AT’s time is spent treating and educating production employees, administrative employees also benefit from AT services. Admin employees are likely to spend a significant portion of their day sitting at their desks. Despite the limited amount of physical demands of admin employees, sustained sitting / standing postures, repetitive motions and various movement patterns unique to the admin setting can contribute to aches and pains. Commonly admin employees may experience discomfort in the neck, mid and upper back, wrists, elbows and lower extremities. Although employees in this setting may not require instruction for proper lifting, they often benefit from proper sitting and standing posture instruction. Aches and pains in this setting are likely due to weakness of the postural muscles as well as flexibility imbalances that occur from sustained postural positions.
Just as the work area of production employees needs occasional adjustments, admin employees can also benefit from proper work area set up. Items found on the desk may need to be positioned differently in addition to making adjustments to position of accessories in the appropriate area on the desk. Proper positioning of desk accessories is essential to improving symptom intensity.
Achieving the goal of decreasing injury risk is a team effort. This “team” can include Athletic Trainers, company physician, human resource generalists, and ergonomic specialists among others. Just as AT’s who work in the traditional athletic type setting must communicate athlete participation and injury status to coaches, AT’s must also utilize this same communication model when treating employees. AT’s may make recommendations to supervisors or team leads regarding job rotation, making adjustments to work areas, as well as making recommendations to limit those activities that are likely to exacerbate symptoms. Treating employees who work in the industrial setting provides unique challenges. “Industrial Athletes” are older in age, often don’t possess the muscle strength and endurance to tolerate the physical demands of their job, and must deal with the physical aches and pains such as arthritic / degenerative changes that come along with the aging process. Various cultural backgrounds, nationalities, and language barriers often times create additional challenges.
When an employee experiences an episode resulting in symptom discomfort, the employee is advised to report their symptoms to their supervisor or human resources. Appropriate personnel are contacted to document the injury, make acute symptom management recommendations. If symptoms allow, the employee may be encouraged to visit with the AT for a couple of sessions to assess symptom response to treatment. If symptoms do not show progress towards improvement after a couple of treatment sessions with the AT, physician referral recommendations are made to HR. Following their physician visit, the employee may be referred to formal PT or advised to continue sessions with the AT.
The goal of the work comp team is to minimize lost time from work, manage symptoms to help employees avoid missing work or having to avoid a specific job tasks. Having treated several industrial employees, many times symptoms will respond favorably with a few basic stretches, strengthening exercises, and ergonomic education. Working with industrial employees despite its challenges is very rewarding. The most rewarding aspect of this working in this setting is the positive feedback employees give after they see their symptoms improve when a little bit of effort leads symptom improvement. A common employee concern is the stress of not being able to work or have to limit the number of hours they can tolerate working due to injury. Reassuring employees their symptoms can improve with consistency and effort, as well as providing a better understanding of the likely cause of their symptoms. AT’s can also provide some guidance to employees to help them better understand how to navigate through their injury treatment and to answer questions they may have. This brief overview of a work comp / return to work program demonstrates the positive affect Athletic Trainers can have in the industrial setting. Ultimately, happy healthy employees are the most productive employees.