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Transforming Your Workers into Industrial Athletes with Biomechanics

Risk Management, Wellness |
Written by Kevin Lombardo

Improve your workers’ biomechanical habits today: Download DORN’s Industrial Athletes biomechanics posters

With budgets always tightening and the workforce generally aging, safety professionals and company administrators have been seeking new ways to combat the most common injuries in the workplace. Thanks to advances in biological and medical science, the field of biomechanics has become a popular, even essential tool for addressing common sources of injury risk in the workplace. In fact, what decades ago may have seemed far removed from the concerns of the workplace now feels like a vital tool in combatting injuries and the skyrocketing costs of workers’ comp claims and healthcare treatments. Combined with the risk of lost workdays and the effects of decreased engagement at work as a result of on-going pain (presenteeism), common incidents like sprains, strains, and overexertion injuries can be incredibly costly, and require diverse strategies for prevention. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these injuries account for over 43 percent of all incidents requiring recuperation and treatment among workers – why shouldn’t we use every weapon in our arsenal to address the problem?

 

 

The New Role of Biomechanics

Though the field of biomechanics has existed for a long time, it’s only recently that this complex science has found a role in the workplace. A combined scientific field influenced by biology, anatomy, physics, and even engineering, biomechanics represents the study and application of how the human body’s movement plays into injuries, pain, and overall physical efficiency.

If that sounds like something geared more toward athletics than normal desk or manufacturing work, that’s because athletes have incorporated biomechanics into their training regimens for decades as a way of increasing their overall effectiveness as competitors. Evaluating how the body accomplishes its tasks, how each part interacts with the rest of the body, and how the body reacts to external forces helps athletes become stronger and faster while avoiding injuries that keep them from staying on the field of play. Why should the workplace be any different?

Case Studies in Biomechanical Work Programs

With new advances in ergonomics and a greater understanding of the tasks workers are required to perform, we are now better equipped than ever to apply athletic concepts to the workplace. Some companies have hired athletic trainers to help their staff stay healthy and on the job—others have instituted training and on-site therapy programs to improve their workers’ biomechanical habits to encourage safer, more productive techniques. Here’s how three leading companies have utilized biomechanics to improve the safety and wellness of their workers, and in turn, their financial outlook.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes

After witnessing the effects of a biomechanics-focused initiative with a partner company, Boeing decided to implement its own program for its factory workers, who are responsible for building and assembling parts for commercial airliners. Tasked with a physically strenuous and demanding job, workers at Boeing facilities were invited to undergo therapy interventions with athletic trainers with the goal of treating pain, discomfort, and injuries without lost workdays and substantial claims costs. Specifically, Boeing focused on two elements: Job Conditioning, which evaluates the specific functions of each workers’ job to create a custom plan for training, and Symptom Intervention, in which workers were able to access deep tissue therapy and athletic training to alleviate pain and discomfort from their job duties. The programs focused on endurance, balance, flexibility, and stability, key factors in ensuring safety on the job.

The results were almost universally positive—after adjusting for implicit bias, Boeing determined that of the 30,375 employees who participated in the program since 2005, almost 88 percent experienced a reduction in pain and discomfort after working with a Certified Movement Specialist or other biomechanics professional. Even better, they reported that participating workers enjoyed a major reduction in the likelihood that they would re-injure the same body part after working with a Specialist. In light of the effectiveness of the initiative, Boeing has instituted a job conditioning program that consists of two hour-long sessions per week for seven weeks, which encourages healthy practices from the start of employment and provides easy treatments like icing and stretching for staving off the effects of strenuous work.

 

UPS Industrial Athlete Training

One UPS district, based in Northern California, placed 48 out of 50 in terms of injuries and the resulting workers’ compensation costs to the company. To fix this problem, the district hired third-party evaluators who determined that the most risk-associated practices for workers were poor lifting technique, poor posture and body mechanics, and various overexertions.

To combat these issues, UPS implemented a range of work-athlete programs, including one-on-one monitoring and coaching and hands-on training at the job site. A three-minute drill was included as part of the initiative, focusing on helping employees improve strength and range of motion for common problem areas like the back, neck, and shoulders, all the way down to the wrist, ankle, and balance center. These services were specifically tailored for the workers’ unique job functions.

In just a couple of years, the NorCal UPS district moved from 48th to first place in company injury rankings, with a 50 percent reduction in injuries after the first year and an 85 percent decrease after the second.

 

Pacific Gas & Electric

Based in San Francisco, California, Pacific Gas & Electric is a utilities company with over 22,000 workers. As part of a company-wide health and wellness initiative, PG&E began an industrial athlete program for their linemen, who are responsibly for frequent heavy lifts and other physically demanding job tasks that frequently lead to injuries or chronic pain. The company added a post-offer physical assessment to gauge new workers’ physical needs, along with a new training regimen that included both classroom work and practical demonstration of stretching and biomechanical techniques that have been demonstrated to positively affect safety outcomes for workers. This portion of the program also included information on nutrition and general fitness strategies so that employees would be equipped to take charge of their own health and wellness.

After a year running the new program, PG&E reported a decrease of over 10 percent in health-related lost workdays, providing a major boost to productivity and budgetary health.  Additionally, the company’s new health and safety program included new metrics and applications for advanced data, providing health benchmarks that can be used by management to further enhance the safety and wellness of their workforce.

Conclusion

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Transforming Your Workers into Industrial Athletes with Biomechanics

Obviously, no single solution can solve the problem of workplace safety and the high price of workers’ comp claims. A holistic solution is required to fully address each facet of the problem, from the physical traits of the workforce to their job techniques and even the work environment, which presents its own unique set of risks. However, these success stories and others like them have demonstrated that biomechanics has the power to dramatically transform how your workers operate on the job, turning them into industrial athletes whose physical health is treated as a key factor in how they’re able to carry out their jobs. With this tool as a part of a Body, Behavior, and Environment approach to worker wellness, employers can achieve significant results in a short period of time, with minimal investment at the start and a wealth of positive effects when implemented in the long term.

DORN has recently added nine Instinctive Movement Specialists who partner with our Certified Ergonomic Evaluators and PainFree Providers to ensure an integrated approach to your needs. Call or email DORN today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help you use biomechanics to improve the health and wellness of your workforce.

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About the Author

Kevin Lombardo

CEO & President at DORN Companies
Kevin is Senior Executive and widely recognized thought leader in workers’
compensation, Total Worker Health, and wellness with a focus on workplace injury prevention and onsite innovative therapy solutions.
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About the Author
Kevin Lombardo

Kevin Lombardo

CEO & President at DORN Companies
Kevin is Senior Executive and widely recognized thought leader in workers’
compensation, Total Worker Health, and wellness with a focus on workplace injury prevention and onsite innovative therapy solutions.
Contact Kevin