Study Targets Lower Back Injury
Identifying at-risk workers for low back pain ahead of time may reduce injuries and lower workers’ comp costs, suggest researchers. Their report indicates the value of an appropriately administered post-hire intervention.
While much attention has been focused on improving safety for commercial drivers, less has been targeted on preventing low back pain. The researchers looked at the use of a functional capacity evaluation during post-hire evaluation of truck drivers for their fitness for duty and the outcomes related to it. Their results were published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
“There was a 54 percent reduction in low back injury incidence rate with an associated 45 percent reduction in workers’ comp costs on average between the pre-intervention period and the post-intervention period,” the study says. “The workers’ comp costs of low back injuries per injured driver increased over the pre-intervention period then decreased thereafter over the post-intervention period.”
Low back pain accounts for 15-25 percent of all workers’ comp injuries, but 30-40 percent of the costs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Commercial truck drivers are especially at risk due to the long hours of driving and additional tasks such as unloading freight, cranking dollies, sliding tandems, pulling fifth wheel pins, securing loads, applying tire chains in inclement weather, applying tarps on loads, and performing pre- and post-trip inspections.
More than 5 million commercial drivers were employed in the U.S. in 2012, according to the study. The back continues to be the body part most affected by work incidence.
“Recognizing that musculoskeletal injury is common among commercial truck drivers, some employers and insurers are employing an FCE as a tool to assist in decision making regarding appropriate job placement of these commercial truck drivers as well as regarding return to work duty after an injury,” the study says. “The assumption is that if the testing results are employed to appropriately fit the worker to the job, there will be a reduction in injury and subsequent workers’ comp costs. This research focuses on the institution of such program and on determining the outcomes of said interventions.”
For the study, a nationwide trucking company incorporated a standardized fitness-for-duty evaluation of drivers in 2003, the main element of which included the addition of an FCE to the already established and traditional Department of Transportation physical examination. Called the RoadReady Evaluation, the FCE was used in conjunction with the DOT exam, and the results evaluated to guide worker placement on low back injury incidence and costs.
Trained physical therapists asked the post-hire employees a series of questions focusing on the neck and back. They also conducted various assessments to determine potential risk factors.
After the evaluation, approximately 3 percent of the drivers were found to not meet the standards. They were given the opportunity for placement elsewhere within the company.
The researchers looked at the incidence rates and workers’ comp costs of drivers with low back injuries from 1999 to 2003, three years before the FCE and from 2003-06, three years after the intervention. They pointed out that overall in the transportation industry there was a reduction of low back injuries between 1999 and 2006.
“Nevertheless, the reduction in workers’ comp costs associated with low back injury since the introduction of the program in 2003 may have been due to the intervention, where individuals assessed as having a higher risk of low back injury may have been placed elsewhere,” the report says. “The upper back, not targeted in this intervention, served as a comparison group where the number of injuries and associated workers’ comp costs remained flat.”
Reining in Injuries Among the Aging Workforce
“By 2015, one in every five American workers will be over 65, and in 2020, one in four American workers will be over 55, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” said a recent blog post. “Although there is no consensus on the age at which workers are considered ‘older workers,’ the aging workforce phenomenon is real — and global.”
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health includes Healthy Aging at Work as part of its Total Worker Health program, a strategy integrating occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being. The posting includes a variety of resources and simple strategies for employers to better accommodate older workers.
“Aging affects a variety of health conditions and outcomes, including both chronic health conditions and likelihood of on-the-job injury,” the posting says. “However, the exact nature of these relationships has only recently been better understood, and it is quickly becoming clear that appropriate programs and support in the workplace, community, or at home can help workers live longer, more productive lives.”
Steps employers can take to make their workplaces age-friendly do not need to be expensive and “can have large benefits if implemented properly with worker input and support throughout all levels of management.” These include:
- Prioritize workplace flexibility. To the extent possible, give workers a say in their schedule, work conditions, work organization, work location, and work tasks.
- Match tasks to abilities. Use self-paced work, self-directed rest breaks, and less repetitive tasks.
- Avoid prolonged, sedentary work, which the agency notes is bad for workers at every age. Consider sit and stand workstations and walking workstations.
- Provide health promotion and lifestyle interventions, including physical activity, healthy meal options, tobacco cessation assistance, risk factor reduction and screenings, coaching, and on-site medical care. Accommodate medical self-care in the workplace and time away for health visits.
- Proactively manage reasonable accommodations and the return-to-work process after illness or injury absences.
- Require aging workforce management skills training for supervisors and include a focus on the most effective ways to manage a multi-generational workplace.
Passionate About Technology
If you overheard the passion and enthusiasm that Brit Waters uses to describe his most important business technology, you would immediately assume it was the latest smartphone or tablet. But it’s not Apple or Google that generates so much enthusiasm, it’s the Riskonnect risk management platform.
“Riskonnect revolutionized how our department does business. This system changed the way we gather, analyze and communicate information. It’s made us more efficient, effective and reliable,” said Waters, Manager, Risk Management at Avery Dennison Corporation. “These are not bandages, but complete solutions.”
Avery Dennison is a multinational company offering labeling and packaging materials and solutions whose applications and technologies are an integral part of products used in every major market and industry. The company operates in more than 50 countries with over 26,000 employees and $6 billion in revenues in 2013.
“Riskonnect revolutionized how our department does business. This system changed the way we gather, analyze and communicate information. It’s made us more efficient, effective and reliable. These are not bandages, but complete solutions.”
– Brit Waters, Manager, Risk Management, Avery Dennison Corporation
The company partnered with Riskonnect, the provider of premier, enterprise-class technology platforms. In just 18 months, the system not only revolutionized the department but also delivered wide-ranging value for plenty of other parts of the organization. Those departments utilize the system to manage financial assets, keep track of vehicles and will soon oversee facilities requests.
‘The Simplicity is Unreal’
For global property insurance renewals, Riskonnect changed the way Avery Dennison collects data on its 300 manufacturing facilities, warehouses and other properties around the world. Gone are the days of sorting through hundreds of separate emails with information about the properties and merging hundreds of separate spreadsheets into one.
Not only was the old process cumbersome, it left lots of room for error.
With Riskonnect, the process is automated. It sends emails to the more than 100 individual contacts and the users insert the information into the Riskonnect portal themselves — something that makes Waters’ life a whole lot easier.
“I hit a button once and it runs the report for me. The simplicity is unreal,” he said. “Plus, it gives us better information that we can communicate to our insurance carriers, and gives them increased confidence about the risks they’re insuring.”
Waters said it’s a big time-saver. “Before, the process could take up to three months, and now we get it done in less than a month.”
One thing he’s particularly excited about is the configurability of the portal. If he wants to customize it, he can easily do so without going through a computer programmer or contacting an account executive.
“It gives you the power to set up the system as you need it, not as someone else envisions you need it,” said Waters.
The Riskonnect portal is also the primary source for reporting workers’ compensation claims. Again, the Riskonnect system simplified the process. Before, employees had to call a 1-800 number or fill out a long form and fax it to the Third Party Claims Administrator (TPA). Now they just log on and use the claims reporting portal, which is equipped with drop-down menus and other efficiencies that help expedite the process.
“We take the guessing game out of their hands,” said Waters. “In a matter of minutes, they get a confirmation email that the claim has been submitted to the TPA.”
Through the Riskonnect dashboard tools, Waters and his department can learn a lot about trends in workers’ comp claims. The system tracks claims year-to-date, costs, causes of injury and even the top body parts that are hurt. Then risk management communicates that information to local managers to make sure that safety-and-prevention programs are appropriate and will help reduce the amount of claims and their costs.
“The Riskonnect dashboards layout all this valuable information in easy-to-use tables and charts, making it simple for us to study the data and implement necessary safety changes,” said Waters.
ROI on a Values Collection Module
At the start of the process, Waters never imagined just how many other departments would use the tool. The finance department uses the system for asset management. The fleet administrator uses it to have drivers sign off on its manuals. Even the facilities department is jumping on board, using the Riskonnect system to identify when properties need repairs to big-ticket items like roofs or windows.
The company is also looking to report global property claims, transit claims and employers’ liability claims through the platform. It’s even evaluating if it can use it on the shop floor with health-and-safety team members having easy access to the system via iPads.
”The Riskonnect platform can help many different departments with a wide variety of tasks,” said Waters. “It’s really making risk management a much more strategic contributor to the company.”
“I hit a button once and it runs the report for me. The simplicity is unreal,” Waters said. “Plus, it gives us better information that we can communicate to our insurance carriers, and gives them increased confidence about the risks they’re insuring. Before, the process could take up to three months, and now we get it done in less than a month.”
Waters’ enthusiasm for the product is clear, but he’s not alone. End-users are raving about how easy, intuitive and customizable it is. For example, training end-users used to consist of holding approximately 15 different webinars to walk everyone through the process. Now, it’s accomplished in one easy-to-understand mass communication through the Riskonnect portal.
The end users even helped Waters and the Avery Dennison team add efficiencies that improve the entire process. On the property reporting side, they suggested adding an attachment tool for adding spreadsheets – so the information is easy to find the following year.
“It’s amazing when you give the end users a product and you see how they come back to you with advice that you never even thought of,” said Waters. “That speaks volumes for the system.”
In just 18 months, Riskonnect changed the way Avery Dennison does business — something Waters can’t hide his enthusiasm about.
“I don’t consider them just a vendor,” said Waters. “I consider them a long-term strategic partner.”