woman in blue shirt stretching woman

Reducing Injuries and Increasing Productivity with Onsite Athletic Trainers 

Athletic trainers can work with onsite nurses to create a stronger and healthier workplace.

At many of today’s manufacturing and industrial sites, workplace injuries continue to be a problem for both employers and employees alike. Onsite nursing programs and reactive treatments no doubt lead to better outcomes and improved recovery times. Yet restricting workplace healthcare to only onsite nursing is solving just one part of the equation. Injuries continue to occur, and many workers still go home sore and achy more often than they’d like.  

After decades of letting preventable injuries and poor ergonomic mechanics reduce the productivity of a workplace, integrating athletic trainers into an existing onsite healthcare program is one of the solutions to reducing and preventing injuries, enhancing workers’ overall health and recovery and improving outcomes.  

Treating Workers Like Professional Athletes  

Make no mistake, workers in construction, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing sites are no different than your favorite athletes. Think about a worker on a construction site. The site is their playing field, constructing a world-class building is their sport, and using heavy-duty tools and machinery is their position. Like professional or college athletes, today’s workers require supremely high levels of skill, focus, strength and flexibility. And like an NFL team that sees its starting quarterback pull a hamstring and is left without its star, if a construction worker pulls a hamstring, it also means a key player is out with time away from work, resulting in a less productive work site.  

Often, the tasks that construction and manufacturing workers are responsible for demand just as much—and sometimes more—physical strain as what professional athletes do on the court or the field. As such, workers in these high-intensity industries require the same level of physical preparation to ensure they can do their jobs safely and protect themselves and their colleagues.  

Baseline Health and Fitness Assessments  

Before onsite athletic trainers can start to deliver results, the very best programs begin with health and fitness assessments and worksite evaluations.  

Beginning with employee health screenings helps create a baseline health level from which athletic trainers can examine progress. There are a variety of screenings employers can introduce, including biometric screenings such as body mass index, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol checks. Stretching and endurance exams also help trainers evaluate where issues may lie so they can create a customized program for improvement.  

To help reduce musculoskeletal injuries, onsite athletic trainers can examine an individual’s ergonomics and provide behavior-based coaching and proper body movement techniques to ensure workers are using their muscles correctly. Athletic trainers can conduct functional movement screenings to assess the body mechanics of each employee on a site to see how their body moves, uncover any imbalances and provide instruction and exercises to correct form for optimal performance. Using the proper movements when completing tasks—think “lift with your legs, not your back” but much more detailed—is proven to prevent strains, sprains and tears.  

Additionally, athletic trainers can evaluate workstations, suggest ways to redesign them for better functionality and recommend different tools that might benefit employees who complete repetitive tasks.  

Preventing Injuries and Managing Long-term Treatment with Athletic Trainers  

Today, injury prevention is arguably the most important part of any occupational healthcare program. It improves employee health and wellness, reduces time away from work and boosts productivity. Athletic trainers play a key role in reducing injuries, incident rate, the severity of injuries and the number of OSHA recordable incidents at these sites. Specifically, they provide preventive care that improves employee health and wellness while preventing injuries like strains, sprains and tears—the most common non-fatal workplace injuries resulting in days away from work in 2020, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. 

Integrating a modern athletic training program in collaboration with a nursing program means introducing pre-shift stretching programs that are tailored to the job site and function, with specific attention paid to body parts that are used the most while completing tasks. If there appears to be a common injury at one job site, athletic trainers will devise pre-shift stretches that address the problem head-on. Interestingly, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2019 that more than a quarter (27 percent) of the 888,220 nonfatal work injuries resulting in days away from work were related to slips, trips and falls. Knowing this, athletic trainers can develop programs to address these types of injuries with a curriculum that includes testing employees’ balance, providing exercises and retesting to see if balance scores improved.  

As another measure of injury prevention, athletic trainers can partner with the onsite nurse and site leadership to develop emergency action plans for various incident scenarios involving injured persons or site-wide hazards. They can also serve as added medical support for completing OSHA-required medical testing and screenings, including hearing tests and respirator fittings.  

The combination of these programs and offerings is all part of the goal of reducing chronic injuries and pain among the workforce over the long term. By working together, onsite nurses and athletic trainers can create whole-person health plans and introduce skill techniques that utilize better body movements and help a workforce stay stronger and healthier for longer.  

Better Outcomes Through Technology  

At the highest level, the most advanced athletic training programs now use evolving technology to track and trend their ergonomic observations, provide corrective actions for worksites and show how these adjustments improved employee health and reduced the number of incidents. Some athletic trainers also use technology to conduct remote ergonomic assessments, including devices that record employees at their stations and track unalignment or new behaviors. The trainers can then recommend adjustments in real-time and prevent injuries before they happen.  

Many of today’s onsite athletic trainers will use a customized scorecard where data on injuries, time away from work and recovery time is inserted. This type of reporting helps the athletic trainers and employers understand how the program works, what its strengths are and what areas of health and safety require more attention.  

One specific benefit of technology with athletic training programs is that if the data reveals a worksite has a high number of injuries to a specific body part in recent years—wrist injuries, for example—athletic trainers can develop a solution to limit them. They begin by examining how workers use their tools and then determine if there are better tools to do the job and provide hand flexibility exercises for workers to do regularly. Using this data, athletic trainers can also organize worksite competitions to promote employee engagement, like a hand-strengthening challenge that measures improvement over a certain period of time. The stretches and strengthening exercises eventually become more enjoyable and less of a hassle for workers to complete each day.  

Athletic Trainers: The Key to Workers’ Long-Term Health  

Worksites are inherently hazardous and full of ways, places and spaces to get hurt. And while an onsite nurse is a requirement for treating what may seem like inevitable injuries, adding an athletic trainer is the key to raising the bar in preventing injuries before they happen and making them much less inevitable. The common strains, sprains and tears can all be prevented with routine stretching exercises and ergonomic adjustments from professional athletic trainers. Integrating them into a worksite ensures workers are operating at their healthiest both at work and after the day is done. 

This article originally appeared in the March 1, 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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