US employers pay nearly $1 billion each week for direct workers' compensation costs according to estimates from the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration. A Boston University College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College doctoral student in physical therapy, with mentorship from BU faculty and practitioners, has developed an intervention to help minimize workplace injury and decrease this cost. During the annual Combined Sections Meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association, the BU team presented their findings on the reduction of shoulder injuries in the University's custodial workers.
Repetitive motion injuries are a growing problem in the US, resulting in an average of 23 days away from work - three times the number of days from other injuries. Shoulder injuries are the most common repetitive motion injury reported and the second most frequent injury experienced by janitors and custodial workers.
As part of a practicum project, third-year doctor of physical therapy student Julie Collins worked with BU Sargent faculty Lee Marinko, PT, ScD and Kelly Pesanelli, PT, MSPT to implement a program of education and equipment modification specifically designed to address shoulder injuries. All Boston University custodians were required to complete a functional task analysis of their daily work activities and attend annual presentations on ergonomics in the workplace. Additionally, custodians were provided with step stools to decrease the frequency of overhead tasks.
"Injury prevention through education and workplace modifications is crucial to reduce the overwhelming expense of musculoskeletal injuries," said Marinko, who is also a practicing physical therapist at the Boston University Physical Therapy Center (BUPTC). "This project highlights how simple changes can have a significant impact, not only on cost but also on employee health and safety."
From 2002-2009, 14% of shoulder injuries among BU custodial staff were due to overuse. After implementation of the Sargent College intervention beginning in 2010, no BU custodians experienced shoulder injuries from overuse or repetitive motions. As a result, the University's annual costs associated with shoulder injuries decreased nearly 85%, from $160,481.72 to $25,512.47.
"Collaborative programs with employers, occupational health, physical therapy, and the employee should be commonplace in industry," said Pesanelli, a BUPTC physical therapist. "Our model is an excellent example of how we can work together to make an impact."