Implementing a Workplace Athlete program at your warehouse/DC is an important step to keeping your people healthy and performing well.
Professional athletes get the best preventive healthcare imaginable.
And it’s for a good reason — it’s because the team understands that in order for them to win games, they need their athletes healthy and performing well.
Your distribution center can adopt this same mindset to prevent the most common and costly injuries in this environment — musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). In fact, MSDs are the same common injuries sports teams encounter with their athletes; sprains, strains, tennis elbow, etc, and this is why we strongly recommend our clients adopt a “Workplace Athlete” program at their facility. These programs have a way of changing the mindset and culture of the organization that equips them for world class MSD prevention results.
To illustrate why a workplace athlete mindset is essential in manual material handling, let’s look at the difference between proactive and reactive healthcare.
The Difference Between Proactive and Reactive Care
A proactive healthcare process doesn’t wait for a workplace athlete to develop an MSD before that workplace athlete gets the training, information and coaching they need to be healthy.
Here is the typical example of how healthcare is delivered to workplace athletes.
The workplace athlete appears to be healthy. Time goes on. The workplace athlete notices that the wear and tear is starting to worsen. More time goes on. The workplace athlete really begins to notice higher levels of fatigue and discomfort on a regular basis. More time passes. The workplace athlete has lost physical function and suffers an MSD. They go to a doctor to get surgery, a prescription and whatever else they need to make a recovery. Hopefully they return to peak health, but it’s unlikely.
This model of healthcare is reactive in philosophy and in practice. If your company’s healthcare process is in reactive mode, you’re leaving a huge opportunity on the table. Remember that MSDs develop over long periods of time due to microscopic wear and tear to the soft tissues every day. The earlier you provide healthcare, the better the outcome for the workplace athlete and for the company. This is proactive, or preventive, healthcare where the goal is to prevent injuries and avoid costly reactive healthcare.
Here is the difference between reactive and proactive healthcare.
- Waits for an injury to occur before being implemented
- Delivers the worst health outcome for the person who was injured
- Is the most costly form of healthcare for the company
- Is implemented before an injury occurs
- Provides workplace athletes with injury prevention tools and techniques through group education workshops and one-on-one training
- Delivers the best health outcome for the workplace athlete
- Is the least costly form of healthcare for the company, providing a strong return on investment
A sports team would never implement a completely reactive approach with their athletes because they know it would lead to more injuries and lower performance. That is why they have athletic trainers on staff to deliver proactive, preventive care. A workplace athlete program at your distribution center works the same way. Your on-site athletic trainer can deliver preventive care for your workplace athletes before costly reactive healthcare (surgery, prescriptions, etc) is even needed.
The Four Core Elements of a Workplace Athlete Program
There are four core elements that belong in the workplace athlete program at your distribution center:
- Workplace Athlete Training
- Early Intervention
- Warm-up Stretching
- Work Recovery Tools
1. Workplace Athlete Training
Training workplace athletes is an essential element of the MSD prevention process. The marketing and branding of the “Workplace Athlete” program is often very well received in a distribution center environment. These types of training programs send the message loud and clear that you care about your people and their health and well being is a priority.
Here are a few of the topics that should be present in your workplace athlete training process:
- Proper lifting/handling techniques
- Team lifting
- Benefits of ergonomics
- Benefits of warm-up stretching
- Work recovery and tools/techniques
- Musculoskeletal wellness and self-care
2. Early Intervention
Early intervention is a proactive strategy to find early signs of an injury and prevent it from happening.
When employees recognize they are experiencing fatigue and discomfort (early warning signs of MSD), they are encouraged to report it. Once the issue is reported, self-help tools should be readily available to the employee through an experienced injury prevention specialist (workplace athletic trainer).
Early intervention is about prevention, not treatment. It addresses fatigue and discomfort before it becomes a painful musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) and a costly claim for the company.
Preventive consultations should be available to each and every employee, and the self-help techniques recommended should not be therapeutic in nature and should serve as a means to help employees counteract daily fatigue that could potentially turn into an injury that requires medical evaluation and treatment.
3. Warm-up Stretching
Making sure your team members are physically ready for work reduces injury risk and promotes a health, safety and team culture. Stretching is a vital part of a healthy fitness regimen. Pre-shift stretching and warm-up exercises reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries by reducing fatigue, improving muscular balance and posture, and improving muscle coordination.
4. Work Recovery Tools
Workplace athletes should be educated and encouraged to practice good musculoskeletal wellness and self-care habits. These habits should be emphasized heavily during group training sessions and regularly reinforced through one-on-one training by an injury prevention specialist.
Because MSDs form as the result of fatigue (daily wear and tear) outweighing the body’s recovery process, it’s important to boost the body’s recovery process.
The result of these core elements of a workplace athlete program is a set of individual controls in place to reduce individual risk factors of MSD.
Ergonomics Plus Workplace Athlete Program Equals Accelerated OHS Results
An ergonomics improvement process coupled with a workplace athlete program accelerates MSD prevention results. The benefit of getting proactive in both of these areas over the course of time is a synergy that leads to the best results possible.