Occupational and industrial consulting could be the new practice-building frontier for the chiropractor. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Ergonomic and Benefits, 2001, musculoskeletal disorders cost the nation at least $50 billion a year. Chiropractors are extremely qualified to help prevent these injuries and control the associated costs.
Musculoskeletal disorders, (MSDs), affect muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, blood vessels and spinal discs. The areas associated with exposure to risk factors include the neck, shoulders, elbows, forearms, wrists, hands, abdomen, back, knees, ankles, and feet. MSDs may also include muscle strains, joint and tendon inflammation, pinched nerves and spinal disc degeneration.
Do these conditions sound familiar to you in your office? You’re probably all-too-familiar with the signs of these conditions, such as decreased range of motion, deformity, decreased grip strength, and loss of muscle function. Patients present with symptoms ranging from pain, numbness and tingling, to burning sensations, cramping and stiffness.
MSD-related injuries force about 1 million employees to miss work each year, lowering productivity and increasing wage loss.
One field particularly hit hard by MSDs is the computer industry. Part of the reason the injuries are occurring here, experts say, is a lack of education about ergonomic issues. Many other employees are also affected by MSDs, including hospital workers, grocery store clerks, workers at manufacturing businesses, and assembly line jobs.
There are some companies providing their employees with training programs to reduce the risk of injury. Hewlett Packard creates customized work stations for employees, as does Intel corporation. They have ergonomics-profile databases that include information on workers’ heights, preferred chairs, ideal desk heights, mouse arrangements, and whether the employee is left- or right-handed.
But many other companies — especially small- and medium-sized businesses — offer only makeshift accommodations for employees, primarily to keep down costs or because of a lack of education about prevention. Very few of these companies have the budget to hire ergonomic experts or consultants like the major corporations.
With those considerations in mind, your industrial/occupational health consulting program can take into account the special needs and concerns of small businesses in your area. These companies would typically have from 50 to 150 employees. You can provide much-needed education and present clearly defined tools that these small businesses can use to help reduce the risk of injury to their employees.
There are many benefits for small businesses, including the dissemination of information to employees on MSDs and preventive ergonomic practices. Prepared checklists can easily be distributed to each employees, outlining ergonomic standards for their particular circumstances to reduce or eliminate on-the-job injury. In some cases, you can consult regarding specific jobs at a company in which employees tend to be at greater risk for MSDs rather than making the training company-wide.
The first step you can take to begin your industrial consulting program is to contact owners of small businesses in your area. You can obtain a list of these from your local library or chamber of commerce. Next, call the companies on your list and ask to speak to the human resource director at each company.
Your “standard” call to the businesses in your area could go like this:
“We have a new program now available, focused on helping your company reduce job-related injuries and workers’ compensation claims in the workplace. My intention is to create a lowered injury ratio for your company. My program follows guidelines established by the Department of Labor. These guidelines were put into place to save businesses millions of dollars in workers’ compensation claims, lost work time and employee absenteeism. I deliver injury prevention workshops throughout the community, and I would really like the opportunity to schedule one of those workshops at your business. Would you have 15 minutes sometime this week to get together and discuss this further?”
When you present a seminar at a local business, use a business/corporate survey of employees, which helps the companies identify if their employees are at risk for MSDs. The seminars can include slides, and a hands-on portion of the program can be specifically tailored to checking employees for early warning signs of MSDs.
In addition, when you are talking to a company’s human resource director, find out if he or she belongs to a professional organization of human resource directors and whether they meet regularly. Ask how you can contact the president of the group, and arrange a meeting if you can. Show the leader of the group your proposal and ask him or her if you could do a presentation to the group so they can find out more about how you can help their companies.
Many small businesses in your community could use help in reducing their injury ratio, and you could identify the employees at higher risk for injury and recommend a treatment program for them. Your practice can grow and you’ll know you can provide a service of consulting that benefits the businesses in your community.