Effectively targeting musculoskeletal health requires taking a proactive, upstream approach while also breaking down organizational silos of information, goals, resources, and expertise.
Our experience has been that proactive musculoskeletal health initiatives are most successful when deployed through a specialized provider who bridges the discipline gaps that create organizational silos. Their role is “injury prevention specialist” and their responsibility is exactly that — to prevent injuries through a total, comprehensive approach that incorporates all the musculoskeletal health disciplines.
Whether found internally or externally, the injury prevention specialist is a versatile resource for your organization to be proactive and break down organizational silos.
A Specialized Musculoskeletal Healthcare Provider
The injury prevention specialists at Ergonomics Plus are Certified Athletic Trainers. Whether you work with us or hire an internal resource, we recommend an athletic trainer because they are a versatile resource capable of implementing a total musculoskeletal health solution.
The following are the musculoskeletal health domains an athletic trainer can fulfill:
Certified athletic trainers work in occupational companies to identify ergonomic stressors and then can assist in recommending and implementing both engineering and administrative controls. Along with developing control measures, athletic trainers can also provide specific workplace ergonomic training and education. Similar to analyzing the mechanics of an athlete, such as the throwing motion of a pitcher, the knowledge a certified athletic trainer has in biomechanics are valuable skills used to analyze a workstation for potential ergonomic risk factors.
The goal of the job analysis is to provide detailed information that can create an environment that enhances human productivity and human well being. The primary purpose of the analysis is to identify the root cause of work-related problems that may contribute to musculoskeletal disorders (Albensi, 2002). The athletic trainer’s education in human factors and biomechanics makes the athletic trainer a valuable professional when identifying potential musculoskeletal disorder risk factors through a job analysis.
The education and knowledge of a certified athletic trainer make him/her a valuable asset in a wellness program. Along with encouraging and developing healthy lifestyles, the certified athletic trainer can manage fitness, stress management, and smoking cessation programs. The certified athletic trainer can also manage company sports leagues, run incentive programs and obtain guest speakers to present on a wide array of topics.
It has been shown that obesity and insufficient vitamin levels are directly related to musculoskeletal disorders (North Carolina Division of Occupational Safety and Health) and that nutrition is an important component of injury prevention (Arnheim, 1993). Furthermore, being overweight costs over $70 billion a year in unnecessary health care expenses (Ficca and Streator, 2002). The certified athletic trainer can provide valuable information on numerous issues related to nutrition, such as the dietary guidelines established by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. Additional nutrition education can be provided on weight loss and gain, dietary supplements and diets.
Just as certified athletic trainers have been developing conditioning programs for athletes and athletic teams for years, athletic trainers are now applying these same principles to develop programs for occupational athletes. Using the principles of conditioning (warm-up, overload, consistency, specificity, progress, intensity, individuality, and safety) the athletic trainer is a qualified health care professional to develop physical readiness programs for individuals or entire departments.
The athletic trainer can serve as a valuable member in a safety department. The diverse skills of the certified athletic trainer provide a solid foundation for working with safety issues. For example, the athletic trainer could manage lockout-tagout, hearing protection and machine guarding programs.
From their beginning, certified athletic trainers have always focused on injury prevention and patient education. By using the same principles applied to athletes, the certified athletic trainer can develop and manage effective injury prevention programs. The occupational athletic trainer can create and implement a variety of injury prevention programs, such as lifting schools, stretching programs, pre-shift exercises, musculoskeletal disorders recognition and intervention, and injury prevention presentations.
Certified athletic trainers are a natural fit to provide case management services as the emphasis is on early detection and intervention in the management of work injuries. The athletic trainer can be a valuable case manager by facilitating on-going communication between employer, physician, rehabilitation providers, insurance and the employee. Additionally, the certified athletic trainer can serve to support the injured employee, monitor medical care, promote efficient reporting and investigation, and assist in finding light-duty work available within physician restrictions (Wickman, 2002).
Serving as an employee advocate may be one of the most important roles an athletic trainer can serve in the occupational setting. Employees trust the certified athletic trainer, and this can be beneficial as the ATC serves a liaison between the employee and management. Also, the certified athletic trainer may provide education to management on an employee’s injury and recovery time, thereby assisting in easing pressure on the employee to return to work.
As musculoskeletal injuries become a larger percentage of all occupationally induced injuries and illnesses, many physicians recognize the benefits of the ATC’s expertise in managing these cases. In the role of physician extender the ATC can employ the skill, knowledge and abilities in managing these conditions earlier in the injury cycle. In the physician extender role, the barrier of “referring to therapy” is brought down to the benefit of all involved.
As health care costs continue to escalate, companies will need to find alternatives to effectively manage injuries. Working under the direction of a physician, athletic trainers are effective health care professionals to provide physical rehabilitation services on-site. The rehabilitation skills of a certified athletic trainer provides numerous benefits for treating injuries on-site, such as no co-pays for employees, avoidance of high health care costs at outside rehabilitation facilities, and no wage loss traveling to and from a facility or sitting in the waiting room. Also, by treating workers like occupational athletes and using aggressive rehabilitation methods honed on athletes that has traditionally been a strong point of sports medicine, businesses can save money because workers will return to work faster (White, 1996).
Return to Work
According to an article in Occupational Health and Safety, an early return to work program is the one single practice that can bring the greatest reduction in direct costs for worker’s compensation programs (Kaplan and Smith, 2000). The skills of a certified athletic trainer in returning athletes to play are precisely the same skills required to return employees to work. There are multiple forms of return to work programs; however, consistent aspects of any return to work program consists of stretching, strengthening, and job simulation (Gatz, 2002). The knowledge and diversity of the athletic trainer in these areas make them attractive health care professionals to implement, manage and conduct return to work programs.
Our job as OHS professionals is to provide a safe work environment.
If you’re like most safety teams, you want to protect and promote musculoskeletal health to prevent MSDs.
But it’s difficult. Implementing an MSD prevention process that is both comprehensive (that includes all of the musculoskeletal health disciplines described above) and sustainable (works for both safety and business goals) is the big challenge.
We’ve been there. Our team of injury prevention specialists partner closely with safety teams to manage large-scale ergonomics and injury prevention efforts.
We expand your capabilities by implementing a proven and sustainable MSD prevention solution through an experienced and capable team of injury prevention specialists.
Whether you partner with us or decide to hire an internal resource, specialized musculoskeletal health expertise is what is required to prevent musculoskeletal injuries in a consistent and predictable way.
Simply put, your safety team has to be capable of solving musculoskeletal health problems.
We would love to help. Talk to an injury prevention specialist today.
This post is the third installment in a new series on musculoskeletal health management.
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