Three Types of Injuries
In my experience there are three categories of physical injury types (psych. not included).
- Acute Injuries - there’s an accident and a body part is broken, cut, bruised or burned.
- Cumulative Musculoskeletal Injuries - they occur over time.
- The Acute Musculoskeletal Injury - has an event and may or may not be associated with the work environment. An example of this type of injury is the, “I felt a pop in my back when I bent over to lift”, or “I slipped when walking down the ramp and hurt my shoulder when I grabbed the rail to keep from falling”.
The Challenge In Identifying The Right Risk Factors
This acute musculoskeletal injury is often just as subjective as a cumulative musculoskeletal trauma injury. The challenge is identifying the risk factors that are not associated with the “injury event” but ones that will impact the workers ability to recover at work.
For example, a worker strains their low back while lifting a box (the event) and returns to work with the accommodation of not having to lift the box until they are physically able. At work, the injured worker continues to complain of low back pain, even though they are not lifting the box.
This scenario causes frustration for all parties:
- The employer is frustrated because they feel they did their part by making an accommodation and might think, there must be an ulterior motive of the worker.
- The injured worker is frustrated because their pain is real and can sense the suspicion of their superiors.
- The claims adjuster is frustrated because they anticipated a successful RTW and will now have to manage the frustrated parties and plan for ongoing indemnity benefits.
The Solution : The Original Work Environment
The solution to return to work continues to lie in the original work environment.
Often there are one or more job tasks that when healthy do not cause pain or discomfort, yet do just that after an injury.
In the example above, something else in the work environment not associated with “the event” is impacting the workers' recovery. Maybe the injured workers' static posture is leaning, causing stress on the low back and requires that the work surface be raised to allow for a neutral posture. We won’t know until a specialist evaluates the work environment.
Get onsite early, and impact the work environment before the injured worker goes back out on TTD for a second time. Their involvement will help drive a successful RTW. This is how you can confidently address acute musculoskeletal injuries.