In most musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), especially strains/sprains, there are usually warning signs before the injury occurs. Tapping in to those warning signs can help you and your employees catch the injury before it happens. Here are the warning signs:
The initial signs include aching and fatigue. Obviously some days at work will make you a little more tired than others. But if the aching is occurring in the same place every day, this could mean a potential problem. Symptoms will go away at rest, so most of the time the worker won’t notify anyone. However over time, this could presents a potential problem. Companies must have high levels of trust and solid relationships between managers and employees in order for intervention at this stage to be activated.
Benefits at this stage: There is no injury yet. An ergonomics assessment of the employee’s job and work conditioning are used to ensure they are moving appropriately. When managers and employees are able to have an open relationship, and employees feel comfortable notifying employers of problems this early on with the trust that the company will provide these benefits to the employee, it not only boosts the company’s reputation, but the employee feels “taken care of” by their employer. This is extremely empowering and encouraging for the employee.
Pitfalls: Very few companies have this level of communication and trust for an employee to feel confident reporting a problem this early on. In most places there is a stigma about reporting problems; fear of being fired, fear of losing bonuses, etc. It’s also difficult to determine whether their problem is really a potential problem vs. complaining. Assessment tools can help determine the difference.
The second stage is where things start to get real. Symptoms start to become bothersome at home and can even start to disrupt sleep or make it difficult to get to sleep. The worker can still work, but the problem is starting to become more noticeable. This may or may not be a recordable injury depending on the situation and symptoms.
Benefits at this stage: The worker is still able to complete his job tasks and is able to work. This is a great time to start with first aid physical therapy to work on ergonomics, perform massage and kinesiotaping and work hardening to resolve the issue before this becomes an OSHA recordable injury. Once their pain is down, work conditioning may be appropriate for strengthening.
Pitfalls: This could become a potential injury. This may also have a longer recovery timeline as the worker is still working.
When complaints get to stage 3, we are looking at a recordable injury. The worker can no longer work as symptoms have become so severe, they cannot complete their work tasks safely without increased pain.
Benefits at this stage: Unfortunately, not much can be done about preventing a recordable injury in this stage. Once a worker is unable to perform their job, then it’s pretty much a done deal. However, it is very important that you research providers to make sure you get someone that can see the worker in a timely manner. There have been numerous cases where it takes 4-6 months for a worker to be seen by a specialist. Advocating for your employee to recover quickly and get back to being productive will lead to improved results for all the parties involved. Staying proactive with their care will get them seen quicker.
Pitfalls: As mentioned before, once a potential injury gets to this stage, it becomes an injury. Sadly though, this is where most workers notify the employer of problems and this is where most companies start to pay attention to ‘potential’ injuries.
Start early. Be proactive. Build relationships.
Hopefully, you can see how valuable early intervention can be for a company. Not just for the low recordable rate, but also for the reputation and overall rapport between employees and employer. Being proactive and building a solid relationship with your employees will build trust and confidence, and that is invaluable for employee retention, reputation, and work environment.