Injuries and Illness

Using Early Symptom Intervention to Reduce MSD Injuries

At a recent CONN-OSHA Breakfast Roundtable Discussion Group, David Hoyle, PT, MA, OCS, MTC, CEAS, the national director of Select Medical’s WorkStrategies Program, discussed early symptom intervention as a method of preventing injuries and reducing OSHA recording and reporting of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries and illnesses in the workplace.

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The WorkStrategies Program’s goal is to reduce injuries, claims, and costs for the employer and increase performance, productivity, and products. The program works by partnering with employers, case managers, payors, and insurers to provide a comprehensive program focusing on three main components: injury prevention, physical rehabilitation and treatment, and return to work/case closure.

Best Practices

Hoyle cited the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which states that there are 500,000 work-related strains per year. According to Hoyle, strains (MSD injuries), account for some of the most common and largest amount of injuries. He explained that the best method to reduce work-related injuries is through early symptom intervention at work. Best practices include:

  • Performing an ergonomic assessment.
  • Using preventive exercises (i.e., stretching).
  • Knowing injury triage.
  • Implementing OSHA first-aid techniques.
  • Offering physical therapy through athletic trainers. (Hoyle noted that athletic trainers can be best for industry workers because their tasks are athletic in nature.)
  • Having MSD experts available that are well versed in treatments of OSHA first aid.
  • Educating workers.

Ergonomics. Understanding the type of labor involved in each individual job in your workplace is key to preventing injuries in the first place. Doing an ergonomic assessment helps you evaluate the relationship between the task and the worker, and identify tasks that can put the worker at risk of injury. Potential adjustments can be made, such as rotating workers through straining tasks or giving workers a break.

Preventive exercises. Include stretch breaks to minimize the risk of injuries to workers who must perform repetitive tasks.

Triage. Assessing and knowing when the right care is needed and at the right time can decrease your recordable injuries in the workplace. This is what Hoyle termed “triaging” the situation or injury. According to Hoyle, assessment of situations and injuries can prevent problems from becoming serious. MSD experts can help with this matter.

OSHA first aid. OSHA states an injury or illness that results in medical treatment beyond first aid is recordable. Hoyle advised that OSHA first-aid regulations under OSHA 1904.7(b)(5)(ii) can be used to prevent injuries and reduce the amount of recordable injuries. The following are some MSD-related treatments that OSHA states can be used under OSHA first-aid measures:

  • Nonprescription medication at nonprescription strength
  • Hot or cold therapy
  • Any nonrigid means of support, such as elastic bandages, wraps, nonrigid back belts, etc.
  • Temporary immobilization devices
  • Massage (Note: Physical therapy and chiropractic treatment are considered medical treatments for recordkeeping purposes.)

Hoyle explained that using a technique called “relax and restore” can help return blood flow to the vessels and muscles that are constantly in use. Using massage can interrupt the high repetition cycle and return the muscle to normal. The use of kinesiology tape has been proven to promote circulation.

Setting up job-related—not compliant-related—massages from MSD experts either on-site or off-site can help mitigate workplace MSD injuries. “As long as [the massage] is set up based on job demands, then it will not trigger OSHA recordings,” stated Hoyle.

Educating workers. Finally, Hoyle stated that workers can be educated on the methods of performing certain work tasks to reduce injuries on a daily basis. Using job-specific coaching, workers can be enlightened to a better, safer way of performing their tasks.