Three Reasons Your Industrial Workplace Needs an On-Site Athletic Trainer
It’s no surprise that in industrial sectors like manufacturing, construction and warehousing, the most common workplace injuries are musculoskeletal in nature. Sprains and strains that come from doing manual work – or more accurately, from doing manual work with incorrect form or to excess – hurt not just injured employees, but also employers’ productivity and bottom lines.
Musculoskeletal injuries are costly in two ways. First, there is the direct cost of treatment. The other factor is indirect costs, such as lost productivity, increased absenteeism, lower employee morale and greater likelihood of presenteeism as well.
That’s why more employers are focusing on prevention. Invigorated efforts around safety training, pre-shift warmups, ergonomic redesigns and comprehensive employee wellness programs have all aimed to keep injuries from happening in the first place. But is there sufficient reinforcement of injury prevention throughout the workday?
This mission is uniquely well-addressed by the education and skillset of athletic trainers, who can provide many different preventive services. These include creating or updating job descriptions, functional screening, individualized movement analysis, coaching, work readiness (pre-placement exams, conditioning programs, etc.), health promotion, and even as an objective voice in accident investigation, which can provide insight to prevent another injury from happening.
“They’re experts in the musculoskeletal system, yet less expensive than a doctor or physical therapist. Their versatility, their flexibility and their expertise make them the ideal health care professional for injury prevention in the industrial environment,” said Chris Studebaker, PT, DPT, OCS, National Director of Onsite Therapy and Athletic Trainers, Concentra.
Here are three ways an on-site certified athletic trainer can help employers reduce musculoskeletal injury rates, and why they’re the best professional for the job:
1. Through task analysis and functional screening, they help employers find the best fit for the job.
Injury prevention begins before an employee is even hired, starting with the job description. Accurate descriptions help to attract capable employees and serve as the foundation for post-offer, pre-hire functional assessments.
When descriptions don’t truly reflect the physical demands of a job, assessments end up measuring the wrong things or missing key requirements, leaving room for under-qualified, injury-prone employees to join the payroll.
Athletic trainers can help to design job descriptions and functional screens to match the musculoskeletal stresses of the job.
“We have athletic trainers who, working with engineering and safety departments, do a lot of job analysis to quantify the physical forces and frequency that an employee should be exposed to without placing them at risk,” Studebaker said.
“These trainers are out in the field with employees, observing how the work is actually done. Unlike the engineering and safety departments, they have a better understanding of how the work demand puts stresses on the musculoskeletal system.”
Those field measurements are then used to create post-offer, pre-employment functional tests.
“We measure what forces employees have to lift and push and pull in different directions. We then recreate these forces to simulate the job environment as closely as possible,” said Brett Shugrue, MSEd, LAT, ATC, CSCS, BodyOp Coach, who is a Concentra athletic trainer. “Now we have objective measures of job fitness, which means employers can make better hiring decisions. Putting the right people on the job reduces the likelihood of injury from the get-go.”
2. They provide tailored “prehab” recommendations that help employees avoid injury.
Post-offer functional testing can help to select the fittest employees when it’s time to hire, but it won’t necessarily ensure continued safety once they are established on the job. These evaluations assess capability, but don’t necessarily provide detailed feedback to the employee on how to reduce their injury risk. That’s where prehabilitation comes in. Also known as “prehab,” it involves patient education, strength training, and/or stretching routines or rehabilitation-type exercises to prevent injuries.
“We can go a step further and provide an individualized movement analysis,” Shugrue said.
Using a video recording app, athletic trainers can capture the way employees move to complete certain tasks, such as picking a weight off the floor, lifting it overhead, or maintaining balance while reaching for an object.
“We look for signs of impaired mobility, like tight shoulders or hamstrings, or muscle weaknesses that over time could lead to an injury,” Shugrue said. “We then provide a detailed report including a picture of their lifting technique and a specific prehab routine – a prioritized list of stretches or exercises to improve their form, specific to their job function.”
Catching and correcting muscle imbalances before they lead to injury sets up industrial athletes for long, healthy careers, and tailored recommendations are more effective than general, all-inclusive group warmups. One-on-one attention also lays the groundwork for a trusting relationship.
3. As intermediaries between employers and physicians, they intervene before injuries become OSHA-recordable.
Industrial employees, like many athletes, tend to work through pain for as long as they can. When their paycheck is dependent upon physical capability, employees are not inclined to report a nagging injury until it can no longer be ignored.
In most cases, absent an athletic trainer, there is no safety net to help employees address pain and discomfort before they become full-blown, OSHA-recordable injuries. On-site athletic trainers can fill that gap, proactively treating minor musculoskeletal complaints before they become serious injuries requiring workers’ compensation claims.
“Being on site with the workforce, the athletic trainer gets a firsthand view of the environment employees work in, gains and shows respect for what they do, and becomes part of the team. That rapport is critical because the more an employee trusts us, the more likely he or she is to come to us early,” Shugrue said.
In many cases, early intervention for a sprain or strain can solve the issue before more intensive physical therapy or pain management treatments are necessary. This keeps employees on the job and helps employers avoid the potentially crippling cost of an OSHA-recordable injury.
“Athletic trainers become the concierge of the occupational health system. They have one foot in the traditional worker’s compensation environment and one foot in the employee’s domain. Building relationships in both directions is incredibly valuable in making the process work smoothly,” Studebaker said.
The Advantage of a Comprehensive Occupational Health Network
On-site athletic trainers provide benefits beyond injury prevention. Because they also have the knowledge and skills to respond to emergent situations, their presence means severe injuries get treated sooner and faster.
Concentra’s network of certified athletic trainers can collaborate with clinicians and specialists at any of its more than 520 Concentra medical centers and more than 130 onsite clinics to ensure the continuum of care is maintained in the event an employee requires more intensive treatment.
“I’ve been involved in a number of cases where I can take an injured employee down the road to a Concentra center and communicate directly with the treating physician, which means more accurate reporting for the employer as well. Having that level of coordination expedites care and results in better outcomes for everyone,” Shugrue said.
Concentra’s athletic training services are also designed to be affordable for any employer. To begin with, an athletic trainer costs approximately 20% less than an occupational nurse and 40% less than a physical therapist, though costs vary by location.
“We also have the ability to offer services a-la-carte or to have a trainer on-site only part time. We are fully scalable to meet employers’ needs,” Studebaker said.
To lean more, visit https://www.concentra.com/physical-therapy/injury-prevention-and-wellness/.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Concentra. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.