Injury Mitigation: Treatment and Prevention in (and out of) the Workplace
For most businesses, it's not even a matter of if a workplace injury will happen but when.
Are these injuries preventable? Many are—especially when employers take a forward-thinking approach to optimizing the health and safety of their team.
But when the unavoidable happens, it's wise to provide your workforce with timely, effective, and individualized care. Not only does this translate to greater employee engagement and return-to-work efficiency, but in a world with ever-shrinking margins and clunky healthcare accessibility, it translates to a better bottom line for your company, too.
In this article, we discuss the current state of workplace injury in America, including the scope of its impact on industries, businesses, and employees. We then present a unique, evidence-informed solution: injury mitigation via on-site direct physical therapy. We'll explore:
- what direct physical therapy is
- how direct physical therapy can support both workplace injury prevention and treatment
- how you can monitor its influence on your organization returns you can expect from your investment in this landmark approach to workplace wellness
You'll also be provided with valuable insights that can help you partner with the best-fit clinicians for your organization.
Ready to move forward with a happier healthier workforce? We're here to help. Keep reading to learn more.
The Current State of Workplace Injury
Injury mitigation matters—perhaps more than ever.
According to the National Safety Council, over 4.6 million medically-consulted workplace injuries occured in the United States in 2018, up by three percent from the previous year.
From 2017 to 2018, work injury costs increased by six percent, to the tune of $170.8 billion. These costs include medical expenses, administrative expenses, motor vehicle damage, employer costs, and wage and productivity loss. For reference, this is equivalent to over one-fifth the total Medicare spending for the same year.
With our national healthcare expenditure projected to rise by 5.4 percent annually through 2028, it's evident that innovations in workplace injury treatment and prevention are sorely needed across all industries.
Industries At-Risk for Workplace Injury
Workplace injury can happen to anyone at any time. But we know that certain industries are at greater risk. These include agriculture, forestry, fishery, mining, oil and gas extraction, construction, utilities, and manufacturing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), manufacturing alone accounted for 15 percent of all private industry nonfatal injuries and illnesses in 2019.
Looking within the industries, we also see important trends among specific job roles. Just ten occupations accounted for over a third of all on-the-job injuries requiring days away from work in 2018-2019. These included construction laborers, truck drivers, registered nurses and nursing assistants, retail salespersons, maintenance and repair workers, and environmental services staff.
With such a diverse range of employees at risk—and at such potential cost to the employer—you start to see why organizations should explore the need for proper injury mitigation among their workforce.
Most Common Types of Workplace Injury
According to the National Safety Council, 84 percent of all nonfatal occupational injuries resulting in days away from work are due to overexertion, slips and falls, and contact with objects and equipment. Of these, overexertion is the top-leading.
Overexertion looks like lifting, pushing, pulling, throwing, carrying, repetitive movement, and "microtasks" that stress or strain the body—activities that can happen anywhere, from desk to warehouse. In 2018, this type of workplace injury resulted in an average of 12 missed days from work.
The most frequently injured part of the body is the back. Other at-risk body parts include the neck, shoulder, elbow, knee, and foot and ankle. Specific injuries you can expect to see on the job include muscle strains, ligament sprains, tendonitis, disc herniation, disc bulge, and nerve compression.
Here's our takeaway:
Traumatic, once-off incidents can occur at the workplace. But statistically, you're more likely to see musculoskeletal injury caused by repetitive or exertional movements.
These types of injuries sometimes appear to happen instantaneously, but they often develop after days, weeks, or even months of subtle and cumulative stress. The implication is that you might not "notice" these injuries until it's too late.
And it's not just the injury itself but what the injury can turn into that employees and their team need to be mindful of. Left untreated or undertreated, a minor musculoskeletal injury can devolve into a chronic, sometimes career-threatening issue for the employee.
As for the employer? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that employers spend $20 billion a year on direct costs alone for work-related musculoskeletal disorders, and another five times as much for indirect costs. Between worker's compensation, lowered productivity, new hire recruitment and training, reputational damage, and other downstream effects, there's no question that workplace injuries can have a tremendous negative impact on any organization.
Enter: injury mitigation.
What Does Effective Injury Mitigation Look Like?
A newer, less traditional approach to injury mitigation in the workplace emphasizes preventive interventions and customizable, industry-specific treatment. It's not about redefining healthcare as a whole, but about implementing a novel method of delivery that boosts efficiency and outcomes.
It's about taking the best of what modern healthcare has to offer and repackaging it into a more streamlined container—then leaving the rest behind.
The Traditional Model of Workplace Injury Treatment: Pitfalls and Challenges
There's never been a better time to implement an optimized strategy. Just consider the alternative:
In the traditional approach, injured employees face downtime, wait times, and multiple referrals—only to receive reactive, non-customized services that don't always consider their personal needs from providers who may not understand the unique challenges of their industry. This leaves employees at risk of:
- Decreased productivity
- Protracted recovery
Since many workplace injuries are preventable, employees are often left feeling unsupported, unseen, and let down by their management team. "What specific strategies can we use to help you avoid an injury and how can we make them more accessible to you?" In the traditional model, proactive questions like these are not often asked—nor answered.
Once injuries become a reality, the traditional healthcare model sends employees on a convoluted path to care, from point A to an unknown point B. Redundant or unnecessary services are often used in an attempt to offset the risk of litigation or rule out costlier, worst-case scenarios without considering if the excessive testing, imaging, and interventional techniques are actually warranted.
The traditional model isn't maliciously designed. It's simply inefficient.
Those inefficiencies, long-range, can translate to employee disengagement and significantly higher costs to the employer.
Injury Mitigation: The Next Iteration of Employee Healthcare
Proper injury mitigation empowers employers with the right resources to support their employees in a way that prevents injury—and ensures better treatment when injury does happen.
This innovative model focuses on proactive care that's fully customized to the organization. It puts providers on-site so they can observe employees in their work environment. Employees have instant access to the education and tools they need to reduce injury rates and enhance productivity, from ergonomic evaluations to risk assessment. Musculoskeletal injuries are assessed quickly, which minimizes tissue damage and creates the opportunity to identify contributing factors in real-time.
It's evidence-based care without the wait and hassle.
In addition to advocating for employees, on-site providers collaborate with senior management to support the organization's higher-level goals by providing their unique clinical insights.
The injury mitigation model clears the path for injured employees to receive the right approach to help them heal—while keeping as many employees as possible off the injury path altogether. No more wasted resources, no more superfluous services or referrals. Injury mitigation connects your organization with services that are suited to you and your employees' needs, right there when you need them.
Injury Mitigation and Direct Physical Therapy
Physical therapists are ideal providers for spearheading the injury mitigation movement. As licensed and board-certified allied health professionals, doctors of physical therapy are able to examine, evaluate, diagnose, treat, and prevent work-related musculoskeletal conditions in a way that reveals underlying causes and reduces the risk of recurrence and chronicity.
We believe the best way to move injury mitigation forward is to ensure employers have immediate and individualized access to the best-fit therapists for their organization—an innovative model known as direct physical therapy.
What is Direct Physical Therapy?
Direct physical therapy flips the switch on traditional injury management by making therapists the entry point of healthcare for your employees instead of the endpoint.
Physical therapy is a premier and proven methodology—and backed by the CDC—for alleviating dysfunction associated with acute and chronic pain conditions. And while specific provisions and limitations may apply, employees in all 50 states can enjoy direct access to a physical therapy provider absent a referral.
Here's how it works:
Direct physical therapy places therapists in and at your workplace—but it's not just about being on-site. Direct physical therapy means having a team of therapists in your corner who can provide immediate, top-of-mind treatment on- and off-site, giving your employees unprecedented access to care no matter where they are—even without a referring physician.
But the ideal injury mitigation model goes even further than this.
Thanks to this novel approach, employers are connected to a team of experienced physical therapists who are informed by industry-specific awareness. Direct physical therapists foster a specialized understanding of the unique demands of an organization and its leading job roles, and remain cognizant of the most common injuries seen within the scope of the industry. These aren't new grads, but clinicians with a solid foundation of experience, advanced credentials, and training.
Direct physical therapy makes it easier for your employees to connect with effective providers who understand their unique work environment—saving them time, boosting buy-in, and ensuring they actually seek out the treatment they need to treat or prevent an expensive injury.
By reinforcing a sense of employee collaboration and advocacy, along with offering industry-specific, site-specific, and even skill-specific care, direct physical therapy can help any organization promote a healthy workforce and a culture of wellness.
Workplace Injury Prevention and Treatment
What does injury prevention and treatment look like when embedded within the framework of injury mitigation, as driven by direct physical therapy?
While the process is always individually tailored to meet the needs of the organization, you can expect to see innovative, proactive, and multimodal interventions that diverge from the norm of reactive, cookie-cutter, bottlenecked care.
The 1:1 Assessment
Under the injury mitigation model, 1:1 assessments are held between physical therapists and employees from every department within an organization. These assessments provide a valuable opportunity for evaluating employees' needs, goals, and pain points, and implementing efficient and appropriate interventions as needed.
Formal 1:1 assessments also allow direct physical therapists to identify and preemptively address potential factors that are increasing the risk of future injury. These are factors which employees often aren't even aware of, such as postural imbalances, poor sleep hygiene, and lifestyle stressors. Without pain or dysfunction, employees may not realize they're at risk—and by the time an avoidable injury does happen, it's too late to capitalize on cost-effective, preventive care.
It's finding the straw before it breaks the camel's back.
Real-time Treatment and Recovery
The new injury mitigation model empowers employees with real-time treatment and on-the-spot problem-solving to immediately address workplace injury, maximize productivity, and avoid delays in care.
Recovery plans are embedded at work, so employees can participate in their rehab right on campus—eliminating wasted time lost to commutes, waiting rooms, or other non-productive time away from the job site.
Management gets to see their investment in action while employees experience what it's like to have their health made an organizational priority. Therapists are also able to better advocate for employees and optimize return-to-work timelines by observing and interacting with employees in their genuine work environments.
Faster implementation of therapeutic recommendations ensure employees get the treatment they need—nothing more, nothing less.
When a workplace injury happens, it presents an opportunity to raise awareness and implement appropriate safety measures in order to reduce the risk of recurrence. But when workflow starts to slide back to the modus operandi, employee risk rises again—and business leaders are left wasting resources on redundant incident reports and in-services.
Injury mitigation allows organizations to keep quality control and safety management efforts front-of-mind without getting in the way.
Pro Tip: Use long-term support services like lunch and learns, small group seminars, and remote learning to double down on injury prevention and promote a culture of holistic wellness and preventive, forward-thinking action.
You work hard to ensure employee safety—don't let your efforts go to waste. Innovative strategies like direct physical therapy can support your organization's bottom line by elevating injury mitigation protocols, reducing future injury, and saving on costs.
Measuring Workplace Safety
Implementing appropriate workplace safety pays dividends for organizations, but it needs to be measured effectively to ensure business leaders can understand their ROI on innovations such as injury mitigation.
To this end, there are a variety of metrics organizations can use to monitor progress and cultural shifts within the company.
Incident rates are made available by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and allow organizations to understand how often nonfatal occupational injuries occur at their workplace compared to standardized recordable rates for other organizations within their industry.
OSHA Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred (DART) Rate
DART rate is used by OSHA to identify and monitor industries at high-risk of workplace injury. Companies with high utilization of workers' compensation are often flagged for further investigation.
By optimizing injury mitigation, direct access physical therapists are poised to help companies reduce workers' comp claims, minimize days away from work, and reduce OSHA recordable incidents.
Pro Tip: DART rate also provides measurable data by which safety managers can evaluate the financial impact of recordable instances over time. DART rate is calculated by multiplying the number of OSHA recordable injuries and illnesses that resulted in Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred x 200,000, divided by employee hours worked.
Employee and Provider Feedback on Culture and Safety
As the life force of an organization, employees need to feel their best to do their best. Employees also deserve to feel as if their suggestions are taken seriously and that their well-being is supported. Beyond boosting employee engagement, supporting this kind of value-driven culture promotes the solvency and integrity of a company.
It’s also why employee feedback on safety protocols, company culture, and other relevant metrics is so instrumental. Formal and informal employee feedback provides insights that go beyond numbers and statistics. Organizations should feel encouraged to regularly seek out and respond to their employees' input.
By collaborating with a team of direct physical therapists, organizations have yet another valuable group of eyes and ears to monitor their environment and streamline actionable input. While they aren't actively putting safety programs in place, direct physical therapists are actively supporting them with their unique expertise. This ensures safety programs and protocols are optimized.
Promoting an inclusive culture of safety and proactive wellness positions organizations to be on the forefront of a competitive landscape. Use direct physical therapy services to accelerate your safety programs and help your team take ownership of your progress and outcomes.
Injury Mitigation Benefits and ROI
Pro Tip: Try this for an illuminating exercise: calculate the revenue that would be required to offset the loss of even a single injury at your workplace.
As we've learned, direct and indirect costs of workplace injury cost U.S. employers billions of dollars annually. Direct physical therapy can improve company profit margins by customizing services and prices, reducing absenteeism, maximizing efficiency, reducing workers' comp claims, boosting employee engagement, and lowering overall healthcare costs, simply by taking a unique and innovative approach to caring for your employees.
Innovative injury mitigation also elevates your brand reputation to one that champions a wellness-focused company culture, which can translate to lowered turnover and lowered costs associated with recruiting, hiring, and training.
For employees who are fully-supported by injury mitigation services, they can expect to see:
- Decreased rates of injury
- Faster recovery
- Improved safety and productivity
- Individualized, industry-specific care that honors their specific work environment
- Immediate access to a network of skilled providers
- Saved time and money
Realize a Healthy Workforce With Injury Mitigation
Employees are an organization's largest asset. A healthy workforce protects this asset by taking a person-first, holistic approach that removes barriers to the care employees need and provides insights that will help them stay well.
A healthy workforce has:
- Low utilization of workers' comp claims
- High responsiveness to employee feedback
- A supportive culture of wellness and safety
- Competitive appeal that helps leverage recruitment efforts
It's time to retire the traditional approach to employee healthcare and explore the power of injury mitigation for employers and employees alike.
Finding the Right Onsite Physical Therapist Partner
Once you start to realize the direct and indirect benefits of onsite direct physical therapy services, the next step is to partner with a provider who will be the best fit for your employees and organization. Wondering how to vet the right team of clinicians? Here are seven questions to ask your potential collaborators:
1. Can this service be customized?
No single plan fits everyone. A great on-site physical therapy partner has the flexibility, expertise, and intuition necessary to customize your care options and pricing.
2. How is progress measured?
Your potential partner should be able to describe key performance indicators or metrics that will help you visualize their influence and long-range effects. Find out how they tailor their metrics to meet the clients' goals and workforce environment.
3. How can this program be scaled for growth?
Your partner should help you create opportunities to scale your injury mitigation program. This is essential for growing businesses and anyone looking to optimize their workplace safety protocols.
4. How would your services help promote a healthy workforce?
Decreasing workers' comp utilization is a significant effect of onsite direct physical therapy services—but there's a lot more to it than that. Your physical therapy partner should be able to help you clarify your wellness and safety goals that go beyond treatment and insurance claims.
5. What is included in the price?
From à la carte options to all-inclusive packages, find a partner that has a range of prices to suit your company's needs.
6. How does on-site physical therapist work with your organization's insurance?
Ask yourself — how confident can you feel that your on-site team will create efficiency and ease of use? And ask your potential partner how they will improve efficiencies.
7. How quickly will your organization see an ROI?
While some aspects of ROI can be realized quickly, a direct therapy partner should be able to help you visualize what your business growth timeline can look like by collaborating with them on your employees' behalf.
What's Next: Worksite Assessment
A safer workplace—bolstered by the right team of providers—starts with a worksite assessment. Before making any commitments, you and your key stakeholders should be given the opportunity to formally review the current state of your organization and clarify your goals.
Leading on-site therapy partners should be prepared to offer:
- In-depth analysis of workers' comp reports and employ health and safety
- In-person walk-throughs of the organization
- Thorough presentation of proposed strategies and goals
Whether you choose to move forward with onsite therapy services, your organization will come away with greater insights that can help you protect your employees.
When it comes to preventing and treating workplace injury, rising costs and barriers to access can challenge even the most organized and well-intentioned companies.
It's time for a better healthcare experience. Discover how a partnership with on-site direct physical therapy services can take your employee wellness and safety programs to the next level. No hoops, no nonsense—just customized and cost-effective strategies to mitigate workplace injury in any industry.
Elevate workplace productivity and empower your employees.
See how Therady can help you change the game when it comes to treating and preventing employee injury.