WorkSTEPS to Trim Injuries

Article excerpt

It's a problem every employer faces.

* One in five American workers is at risk for developing injuries associated with cumulative trauma, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. The agency estimates employers will spend more than $200 billion this year for costs related to workers compensation injury and lost time days.

* In 1998, 5.5 million work-related injuries were reported in the United States, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That agency estimates more than 50 percent of the American work force will suffer this year from repetitive motion injuries (including back and carpal tunnel). Injuries caused by overexertion should rise dramatically as well.

* The Department of Labor reports 1.8 million U.S. workers each year experience work-related musculoskeletal disorders, such as injuries from overexertion or repetitive motion. About one-third are serious enough to require time off work. Work-related MSDs account for one-third of all workers comp costs each year because the injuries can require a lengthy recovery time.

With that clouding the horizon, it behooves employers to weed out potential workers comp cases before they're hired. One solution is the WorkSTEPS Employment Testing Program from WorkSTEPS Inc. of Las Colinas, Texas, one of the nation's largest providers of standardized medical/functional employment testing.

The program identifies individuals who do not meet job specific strengths, provides employers with a pass/fail recommendation, appropriately matches current and new employees to the physical demands of their jobs, substantiates legitimate injury and disqualifies fraudulent claims, reduces employee turnover and expedites employee's return to work.

Associated Rehabilitation Inc. in south Oklahoma City was the first WorkSTEPS provider in the Sooner State. The clinic has been implementing the program for about five years. Stuart Alexander, a registered physical therapist for Associated Rehabilitation, said the firm provides the program to about 20 companies, mostly oil- related.

The program, he said, began in Texas 10 years ago by Larry Feeler, an Odessa, Texas, physical therapist. Facilities have since spread throughout Oklahoma and the United States. In addition to Oklahoma City, Alexander said WorkSTEPS facilities are available in Tulsa, Duncan, Ardmore, Woodward and Clinton. He said one is expected to open soon in Norman.

WorkSTEPS is "a program to make sure that whoever an employer hires is physically qualified to do the job and to identify pre- existing musculoskeletal conditions that might show up on the job," said Alexander. "A lot of people after they've been working for someone for two or three days reported an injured shoulder or an injured knee that they may have brought to the workplace."

Alexander conducts a thorough medical interview and a musculoskeletal examination to discover any pre-existing conditions. When a condition is identified, the employee is required to go to the doctor and receive a statement saying the employee is medically qualified to perform the job. The employer has documentation that the employee is qualified and that the condition exists.

"That is at the employee's own expense," Alexander said. "And many times they don't come back."

The employer, though, pays for the WorkSTEPS program. Pre- and post-employment screening includes four levels of testing in the rehabilitation clinic.

The first level determines the employee candidate's maximum safe lifts from the floor to knuckle, knuckle to shoulder and shoulder to overhead. The candidates are instructed in proper mechanics and lifting techniques. Recommendations are then made for the candidate's maximum safe lift.

"Ergonomic data indicates workers are at low injury risk if they do not exceed 75 percent of their lifting weight," Alexander said. …