Asked and Answered

Managing the Costs and Causes of Workplace Injury

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Ask & Answered is your opportunity to share the questions that keep you up at night. Prairie Manufacturer will seek out subject matter experts to answer your questions and help your business thrive.

In this issue, we spoke with Dorotea Cassels, Senior Physiotherapist, Work Injury Management Team, at The Wellness Institute in Winnipeg, about managing the costs and causes of workplace injury.

Prairie Manufacturer (PM): What does sick leave cost an organization?
Dorotea Cassels (DC): Financially there are WCB costs, wages paid to absent and replacement workers, and administrative costs. Productivity or delivery delays result in dissatisfied customers. Workplace culture is affected by an increase in stress and workload on present workers. Safety and quality may be affected if the replacement staff is inadequately trained or is rushing to get the job done.

PM: Why do workers take sick leave?
DC: Sick leave reasons include a wide range of physical and mental causes. Personal and emotional stress, workplace issues and stressors, low job satisfaction, child and elder care, as well as injuries incurred on and off the job, are common causes of lost or restricted work time.

The most frequently reported causes are work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to Safe Work Manitoba, MSDs account for 63 per cent of time-loss injuries in this province’s manufacturing sector. MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, joints, and blood vessels). Repetitive, forceful, or heavy work, along with poor worker fitness, body mechanics, and work habits can all contribute. An aging workforce, the rise of chronic health conditions, and psychological stress are all associated with increases in MSDs.

PM: Who can best advise a company on effective strategies to reduce absenteeism related to MSDs?
DC: Physiotherapists (PTs) and Occupational Therapists (OTs) are ideally suited to help employers with managing MSD challenges. They are skilled at assessing and understanding the musculoskeletal system, treating physical conditions, addressing psychosocial and motivational factors that drive disability, problem-solving causative and ergonomic factors, and providing education. An OT or PT can be contracted to provide single or multiple services based on company need.

When choosing a provider, look for a multidisciplinary rehabilitation team that has a wide skill set, multiple resources, and extensive experience in the challenges facing both industrial and office work sites.

PM: What approaches have proven positive outcomes for managing workplace injuries?
DC: Several approaches have proven effective in managing MSDs:

  • • Ergonomics or Work-site Assessment & Training – an OT or PT can assess problem areas with recommendations for changes to work stations, workflow, ergonomic modifications, or body mechanics.
  • Early Assessment and Treatment of Injured Workers – You may wish to partner with an Occupational Rehabilitation Physiotherapist or clinic for early injury assessment and guidance regarding your worker’s abilities and restrictions. Having a therapist familiar with your job-site and work demands allows for quick intervention, facilitating safe early return to work, timely progression to full duties and quicker recovery. He or she can readily make recommendations for altering job methods to reduce symptoms and risks.
  • Functional Capacity Evaluation – When you need to determine a worker’s abilities, an FCE will tell you exactly which physical job demands the worker meets. The FCE includes checks for full effort to ensure you get a true picture of the worker’s abilities. Cognitive FCE’s focus on work-related executive function, assessing the broad range of perceptual/sensory, communicative, psycho-emotional and behavioural issues faced by workers with traumatic brain injury or mental health conditions.
  • Pre-employment Fitness Screening – When a job requires heavy or repetitive physical work, a functional physical test will assure you only hire workers physically capable of performing the job.
    • Work Hardening /Conditioning programs – With the trend to keep workers at work (often on light or restricted duties), a therapist-supervised functional strengthening program helps ensure workers progress back to full duties.
  •  On-Site Services – Contracting with an OT or PT to spend time on-site can be a good investment for early symptom identification, job coaching and regular follow-up, providing solutions and interventions before absenteeism occurs. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Association, this can reduce injury costs by as much as 50% and days off work by 25%. For interventions beyond their scope, an OT or PT can act as a valuable liaison between the company and rehabilitation community. As an added benefit, workers see that the company views their health as a priority
  • Other – There is also evidence for positive outcomes with workplace stretch programs or on-site exercise or gym facilities, body mechanics training, and education through lunch-and-learns or wellness fairs.

PM: Which services does my business need?
DC: Before choosing the best strategies to implement, it is imperative to examine the root causes of absenteeism in your company. Evaluate the outcomes of all new initiatives. The most successful programs have a solid underlying safety program and support from all levels of management.

Dorotea Cassels is a physiotherapist with more that 30 years of experience in musculoskeletal injury prevention and treatment. She is the senior therapist in the Work Injury Management Program at the Wellness Institute Rehabilitation Clinic where she works with clients to facilitate a return to work. She also assists various companies develop injury prevention strategies. The Wellness Institute is a world leader in the prevention and management of chronic disease. For more information on managing workplace injuries, visit