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NO EXCUSES for Work-Related Musculoskeletal Injuries Due to Inappropriate Job Roles

March 27, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 149

After being invited to talk at a recent conference regarding human factors management in the rail industry it was clear to me that the one key principle everyone was missing in their attempts to deal with common issues, was objectivity. Obviously no-one intends to be subjective when doing pre-employment screenings or functional capacity evaluations and all companies and organisations do their utmost to place employees into suitable positions, or do they? If they did why are so many cases of work related lower back pain costing companies millions of rands each year? One reason is this, most of the lost revenue is not even attributed correctly and everything is blamed on absenteeism. You may ask how this is possible with employers supposedly tracking everything from the bottom line up and they are more than equipped to identify problem areas. Right? Wrong! In my experience only 1 in 5 employers actually monitors their absence rate correctly, and some have no idea what theirs' is and cannot even vaguely place themselves when I give them the expected absence rates in their industry. The point I am making here is that absenteeism is only a fraction of the problem when it comes to reducing costs due to decreased productivity, whether it is musculoskeletal or otherwise, but this is another topic altogether and will be address another day.

So, why are employees still experiencing musculoskeletal injuries due to subjective placement into a job role that does not suit their physical capabilities? There is a certain methodology that needs to be followed in order to 'match' an individual to the job. It may seem pretty straight forward to some but the fact is many HSE departments are not ensuring that this is the standard.

Let's break it down, whenever anyone refers to 'matching' something, there are always at least 2 items or aspects and a comparison between them. So how can you match one to another if you have not objectively (there's that key word again) examined both aspects? Truth be told, you can't. When I gave my talk I spent a lot of energy reiterating this fact because it is so crucial to this issue. You need to analyze the job at hand to get a base-line for comparison to compare the individual against. You cannot take an individual through a generic medical exam and then put him or her into a job role because they received a 'clean bill of health', it is far more in depth than that- or at least it should be! As I mentioned earlier there are numerous variables involved in 'Human Factor Management' including physical, psychological and environmental factors. It is important to identify areas where being objective will be more difficult like psychological aspects, chronic diseases, stress, noise, vibration etc. I mention this because it must be noted that certain aspects of correct 'capability matching' are always going to have a degree of subjectivity, however physical capabilities from a musculoskeletal standpoint should not. If you can identify the exact strength and endurance requirements for a task, you can test an individual against those exact requirements and objectively determine whether the can physically perform the role.

If you were thinking that this must require specific training or equipment, you'd be right. When stressing the importance of objectivity it is important to stress the use of testing equipment that is deadly accurate and cannot be cheated/faked by innovative candidates- yes this does happen. I would recommend the use of equipment that can at the least:

1. Replicate the exact requirements of the task/s

2. Provide objective reporting

3. Measure the coefficient of variation

Number 1 and 2 are self explanatory and number 3 is how you ensure you are not dealing with a malingerer- you can investigate this further if you are interested and you will most likely find that the acceptable COV is 10-15% and if greater there would need to be a clinical explanation eg Pain, fatigue etc, which would need to be investigated and confirmed. With this in mind I will reiterate that specific training would be required to ensure the Occupational Therapist or Occupational Medicine Physician is competent in the use of whatever testing equipment is being used to objectively facilitate the evaluation. There is no point having qualified medical staff performing your FCEs if they don't have the equipment to be objective, and conversely, it would be pointless to have the equipment capable of providing the objectivity if the people operating it are incompetent.

With the increasing focus on Health and Safety in South Africa, Human Factor Management is going to become a priority. The sad fact is that it is not already a priority and only when something becomes a rule or is legislated will it be adhered to- well to a degree, as many companies large and small will still try and dodge this bullet while their employees take the hit. However in the end this ultimately results in employers paying compensation for injuries but in some cases employees are subjectively being let go due to incapacity and the employers are no longer responsible for them. They are then the states' problem and we all know the impact of this. There really is no excuse for work related musculoskeletal injuries, unless due to an accident, if the correct systems are in place to objectively place employees in correct job roles and correct treatment is provided to help employees.

Until everyone is one the same page there are going to be slight discrepancies between occupational therapist reports, musculoskeletal injuries will cost companies money due to decreased efficiency and employees will continue to suffer in their job roles. Human Factor management is complex, how much easier would things be and how much risk could be managed if you could remove all doubt (at least from a musculo-skeletal perspective) in answering the question "can this individual physically perform the job role?"

Dr Palmer is the National Sales Manager at a clinical company called IPRS and is also a Chiropractor in private practice. IPRS is a company that specializes in helping organizations reduce the impact of Musculo-skeletal injuries on their efficiency and productivity. For more information go to:

Source: EzineArticles
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