Agri-businesses work hard to prevent on-the-job injuries for obvious reasons — claims can drive increases in workers’ compensation premiums. An injury to an experienced and skilled worker also means lost productivity, the expense of training a replacement, and the costs of low morale and absenteeism.
Ideally, preventing injuries is the way to control costs, but when injury happens, returning that worker to the job is the next best solution. Early return-to-work programs allow an employee to return to work with light duties during recovery.
If an injury requires more than just some time off, rehabilitation can help a worker recover and return to the job ready to perform at 100 percent.
Among farmworkers, sprains and strains of the low back, neck and shoulder are among the most prevalent injuries that come to Salem Health’s Work Injury Management Program. These injuries result from ergonomic challenges in the workplace — repetitive tasks, stooping or crouching for long periods and working on uneven terrain. Often, therapists see repetitive motion as a cause of injury, resulting in conditions such as tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and “tennis elbow.” Many of these conditions require hand therapy to support recovery.
Farmworkers can also have traumatic injuries from accidents involving equipment.
“A lot of these injuries will not optimally heal without the intervention of physical therapy,” said Juan Lopez, staff physical therapist for Salem Health’s Work Injury Management Team. “These injuries — without therapy — have the potential for complications, such as excess scarring and muscle atrophy.”
Physical therapy can correct improper body mechanics and help prevent re-injuries. Salem Health’s program focuses specifically on work-related injuries and preparing patients to return to their jobs. To make the process smoother, the program works directly with doctors and insurers, ensuring the continuity of treatment and expediting that worker’s return to work.
Work injury management offers targeted, job-specific work conditioning that helps physicians help their patients return to work in a timely fashion. Patients do work-related tasks under the close supervision of therapy staff.
Innovative equipment and job-specific materials simulate the work place. Therapists can observe the patient performing tasks specific to their job, then identify and address the factors that may have contributed to a person’s injury. Patients practice their job and strengthen key areas, so they are ready to return to work with a lower risk of re-injury.
“In our gym, for example,” said Lopez, “we incorporate cinder blocks, ladders, shovels and food service trays.”
Lopez often uses the BTE Primus RS to program therapy for the individual worker. This computer-based tool assesses and duplicates various work tasks such as using a paint sprayer, climbing a ladder, operating a jackhammer, driving a truck or tractor and operating hand controls.
Coordinating all the players that have a role in bringing an injured worker back to the job — the physician, the patient, the employer, the therapist and the insurer — can be confusing. A coordinated, one-stop shop can save money and time.
“Our goal is to help the employer receive back an employee who is empowered to perform, and, in many respects, even better than before the injury,” said Lopez.