Health-June 15, 2015

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HEALTH • June 15, 2015 17 Beyond making changes to workstations and work habits, ergonomics focuses on fitting the person to the job. Functional capacity Willett conducts functional capacity evaluations (FCE) for pre-employment, post-hire and post- injury situations. The assessment includes a battery of standardized tests on performance-based measures, as well as a client interview, medical record review, musculoskeletal screening and functional testing. The resulting report offers detailed evidence of an individual's ability to perform specific job tasks or, in a post-injury case, the degree of disability and capacity to return to work. An FCE may include work conditioning for employees anticipating returning to work after an injury. As an example, for a UPS driver sidelined by a back sprain, part of the WPTS facility includes a large space where work situations can be replicated. A simulated truck setting mimics the conditions the UPS driver works under while pushing, pulling, lifting, squatting and kneeling. Settings can be customized to fit the employee's industry, and can include props such as ladders and shelving. "The person works in blocks of time to replicate work conditions," Willett said. "Proper ergonomics helps a person return to work faster and safer and reduces the number of lost days and hours." Another major component of the FCE, according to Willett, is "distraction testing," which helps to reveal cases where an employee is avoiding returning to work by exaggerating or feigning an injury; the National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that nearly 25 percent of all lost-time claims are attributed to malingering. Willett explains that while the individual is engaged in one activity, he may be evaluated for another. For instance, to assess a gait deficit, a person may be asked to carry a box from one point to another — not realizing that his walking pattern is under observation. Balancing the body In some cases, companies don't just seek to remedy existing problems; they take a proactive approach to employee wellness. One such company is Karl Storz, a medical device manufacturer specializing in endoscopic technology in Charlton, (Karl Storz founded the company in 1945 in Germany. He died in 1996. References to Karl Storz or Storz in this article mean the company, not the individual.) Storz invested in ergonomically correct chairs, workbenches, safety belts and specially designed shoes in an effort to reduce worker injuries. When these strategies fell short, the company called on Cheryl Wilbur and Carol Tschirpke, co-owners of Quality Physical Therapy Inc. in Sturbridge, for help. Tschirpke also created BioSynchronistics, a one- on-one manual approach that draws on physical therapy and "examines how gravity affects the human biomechanical structure and posture, how cumulative stresses and strains may later develop into a problem." She added, "BioSynchronistics balances and synchronizes the body. It looks at the whole body, not just a piece." At Storz, Tschirpke began her evaluation with a facility walk-through and a confidential symptom survey. For all clients, after combining her observations and the survey data, Tschirpke identifies a starting point. "For instance, one department might have a lot of back injuries. When we have some idea about specific symptoms, we have an idea of what to address," she said. Armed with this knowledge, Tschirpke then assesses individual employees. "We look at posture, balance and make sure there is space in the body. We want to decompress areas that have become compressed," she said. Tschirpke and her team work one-on-one with employees to address physical issues and change behaviors and attitudes. "Most people who can't exercise are hurting," she said, adding that some individuals resort to pain-relieving agents to address injuries. "We want to take the person with aches and show them techniques to bridge the gap and become more active." Karl Storz: A case study At Storz, Tschirpke introduced her Early Symptom Intervention (ESI) wellness program, which incorporates BioSynchronistics, during an on-site pilot. This approach attempted to engage 60 percent to 80 percent of the workforce to help improve health and reduce injuries, and complemented Storz's in-house wellness program. It appears to be working. Christopher J. King, Storz's environmental health and safety manager, said the company has experienced a remarkable reduction in musculoskeletal claims among employees since implementing ESI Wellness in March 2010. In the past, the majority of claims filed — 94 percent — were due to sprains, strains, muscle pulls, backache and other musculoskeletal issues. That number has dropped to 14 percent, thanks to the new intervention program, according to King. "There has been a dramatic decrease in imaging, visits to the emergency room and to specialists. We've also seen a 20 percent reduction in worker's comp insurance and our health care premiums. In 25 years that had never happened before," King said. These findings come as no surprise to Marianne Pappas, director of employee and occupational health at the Leominster campus of HealthAlliance Hospital. She has worked in the field of ergonomics for more than two decades and has seen results as methods and philosophy have evolved. "More than 20 years ago, we would hook people up to electrodes as they typed and then measure movements. Did they tense up? Stop breathing? Were they stressed?" she said, adding that current processes focus more on observation and prevention. Pappas asserted that worker wellness and ergonomics are inextricably linked. "Being proactive is the only way to go." "BioSynchronistics balances and synchronizes the body. It looks at the whole body, not just a piece." Carol Tschirpke, Owner, Quality Physical Therapy, Inc. "More than 20 years ago, we would hook people up to electrodes as they typed and then measure movements. Did they tense up? Stop breathing? Were they stressed?" Marianne Pappas, Director of employee and occupational health, HealthAlliance Hospital

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