This Employer Reduced MSDs by 86%

Rehrig Pacific Company shares key secrets to its success in reducing employee musculoskeletal injuries by 86%.
By: | July 27, 2022

Any company with employees that do physically demanding or repetitive work is likely looking for ways to reduce musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries and their associated costs.

And it’s no wonder that so many employers are interested in this same topic. According to the State of MSK Report 2021 by Hinge Health, more than half of the American population suffers from back, shoulder, knee and other joint pain. Musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries represent one sixth of all spending in the U.S. health care market.

The prevention of musculoskeletal injuries is a core concern for the National Comp conference, and a topic we’re pleased to include on this year’s program agenda.

Curt DeWeese, director and physical therapist for Atlas Injury Prevention Solutions and John Rhyne, corporate EHS director for Rehrig Pacific Company, will join up on Oct. 19th to discuss the simple but effective program they developed to reduce musculoskeletal injuries and other costs. DeWeese and Rhyne shared some of their thoughts with Risk & Insurance® in advance of the presentation.

The annual cost of musculoskeletal disorders (including health care costs and lost worker productivity) is around $600 billion, which is greater than heart disease ($309 billion), cancer ($243 billion) and diabetes ($188 billion).

In an analysis of 40 million Americans, the report also found that MSK costs doubled from around $10 billion in 2010 to around $20 billion in 2019.

Many companies, of course, are looking to buck that trend. One company that’s getting it right is Rehrig Pacific Company, which reduced MSD injuries by an impressive 86%.

Several years ago, Rehrig Pacific, which manufactures wheeled containers for waste hauling and recycling management, was looking for a way to better handle both injuries and employee complaint of strains or pains.

The company operates 24/7, 365 days a year, which means that MSK injuries or complaints can occur at any time night or day when the only medical facilities that are open are emergency departments or urgent care facilities.

John Rhyne, corporate EHS director, Rehrig Pacific Company

“You could have a person with a relatively minor strain or muscle soreness and you could spend a fortune at the emergency department,” Rhyne said. “The vast amount of off-hour workers compensation costs are related to running to the emergency department rather going to a health clinic during normal business hours.”

Those weren’t the company’s only costs. Sending employees to ERs or urgent care typically led to OSHA-reportable injuries, lost time, and prescribed medications.

Here are four of the secrets Rehrig Pacific Company learned while transforming their program.

1. Not All Muscle Strains Require Medical Care

As they were considering how to rein in these costs and other issues, they discovered that not all muscle-related sprains, strains or discomfort require medical care.

With Atlas’s help, the company instituted a 24-hour nurse triage program to help determine what injuries needed immediate attention and which could wait.

Operating at all times of the day, the telephonic nurse triage program removed decisions from supervisors about whether an employee should head to the emergency department for a minor issue that could be easily resolved and turned that decision over to medical professionals.

The result was a dramatic decrease in ER visits.

“Forty percent of the employees who call into telephonic nursing are guided to self-care rather than to the ER,” DeWeese said.

2. Access to Physical Therapy Clinicians Can Assist in Decreasing ER Visits

The next step was to integrate a network of physical therapy clinics into the nurse triage protocol as a care option specifically for employees who report muscle-related concerns.

These clinicians are trained to conduct an assessment to make sure first aid is appropriate and, if so, provide only OSHA compliant first aid care.

OSHA describes first aid as medical attention that is usually administered immediately after an injury occurs at the location where it occurred. It often consists of a one-time, short-term intervention and requires little technology or training to administer.

First aid can include cleaning minor cuts, scrapes, or scratches; treating a minor burn; applying bandages and dressings; the use of non-prescription medicine; draining blisters; removing debris from the eyes; massage; and drinking fluids to relieve heat stress. Under OSHA’s revised recordkeeping rule, which went into effect January 1, 2002, first aid cases don’t have to be documented.

In one of the company’s locations in Erie, Pennsylvania, Atlas provides first aid care and injury prevention training on site to help employees resolve any minor issues such as aches and pains.

“Having an employee contact a physical therapist, athletic trainer or ergonomist who can help us resolve any ergonomic issues on the floor before they become significant is very beneficial,” DeWeese said.

3. Treating Employees as Industrial Athletes Who Can Be Coaches Minimizes Injuries

Rhyne said his company has begun to regard their employees as industrial athletes who can be coached in biomechanics and in other ways to avoid becoming injured.

Rhyne and DeWeese agree that close collaboration between safety managers was key to the success of the program.

Curt DeWeese, director, Atlas Injury Prevention Solutions

Rehrig debuted its program in 2019 when it started offering telephonic nurse triage. In late 2019, it began offering in-clinic first aid early intervention followed by on-site first aid early intervention in Erie in early 2020.

Rhyne said taking a layered approach to initiating these services was necessary for his company.

“We had to take baby steps and prove its worth,” he said.

4. Starting Sooner Rather Than Later Is Key

One of the lessons that Rhyne said he’s learned from the program is to start it sooner rather than later.

“The sooner you can identify the issues and get someone involved the better,” he said.

DeWeese and Rhyne will go in-depth about what they’ve learned along the way, imparting critical information about how a program to reduce OSHA-reportable musculoskeletal injuries can be developed and utilized. &

Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer. She can be reached at ris[email protected]

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