As a Franklin County girl, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for keeping business and industry in Southern Illinois.

I have watched companies come and go over the years. The crash in the coal industry in the late 1980s affected my family, when my father lost his job as a coal miner, because of the issues of high sulfur coal.

Let’s be honest, Illinois is not a great place to start a business, for many reasons, and managing workers’ compensation costs in Illinois can be particularly tricky. If you are a business owner who is looking to save money and reduce workers’ compensation costs, then I have just the answer for you — connecting with occupational health, accessing to a Preferred Provider Program (PPP) and on-site services is the answer. We all know there are many expenses involved in workers’ compensation and not having access to those who can help can cost a company time and money.

Occupational health services provide medical treatments that focus on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace. The aim of occupational health is to prevent work-related illness and injury by encouraging safe working practices, addressing ergonomics (studying how you work and how you could work better), monitoring the health of the workforce and supporting the management of absenteeism. Occupational health services also have the expertise to work with employers to implement policies and ensure health and safety compliance, conduct pre-employment health assessments, support health promotion and education programs, provide advice and counseling to employees around non-health-related problems and provide employers with advice and guidance for making reasonable adjustments to working conditions.

Workers’ compensation claims not only affect the treatment of your injured workers but claims significantly influence your company’s insurance costs as well. Most companies do not realize that Illinois provides employers and their insurance companies with an important tool to help manage an injured worker’s recovery and related costs. These “right to direct” rules allow employers to direct an injured employee to a preferred provider program (PPP) for medical care. This helps ensure that injured workers can access a network of care for treatment whenever possible. Within this network, there are specific doctors who are experienced in treating workplace injuries and working with claims handlers. These physicians have agreed to negotiated rates, which allows better-coordinated care for those with workplace injuries.

Setting up a Preferred Provider Program takes time, but there are necessary steps that need to be implemented to ensure a process in place for directing treatment. It is important that employers promote the use of the Illinois Preferred Provider Program (PPP) and encourage injured workers to seek treatment through PPP network providers. While employees can opt out of the program, participation in the PPP can be a great benefit to the outcome of the claim in terms of the employee’s recovery, return to work and related costs.

Implementing on-site programs is another way to address issues at work immediately. This allows the provider access to the employee and triage them to immediate medical care when needed. Current research shows that on-site programs are not just helping workers heal; they’re also helping workers prevent injuries in the first place.

What is included in an on-site program? By networking with an occupational health and rehabilitation program, employers have access to innovative services to reduce costs associated with injury in the workplace and lost-time workdays. Strategies may include a variety of services:

Data analysis: An occupational health consultant can assist the employer with analyzing and reviewing current injury data. This includes assessing the history of claims, OSHA recordkeeping logs, safety and ergonomic programs, the injury prevention process, medical provider network or options with a Preferred Provider Program (PPP) and review of medical utilization. An action plan is then developed and customized to meet the needs of the company. This will assist with prompt identification of potential areas requiring intervention.

Ergonomics and job site analysis: Athletic Trainers, as well as Physical and Occupational therapists, can be available to study and observe workstations in progress and perform an analysis of high-risk areas. Recommendations for the avoidance of hazards related to the specific job task and modifications employees can make to reduce the risk of injury while on the job. In addition, therapists can also identify and qualify essential job functions for current and prospective employees.

Employee education and training: Back education and body mechanics training equips employees with an understanding of their anatomy and body mechanics to learn the proper way to handle materials when lifting. It also provides alternative means of lifting to reduce possible back injuries and strains.

Workstation design and training: Workstation training teaches employees how to set up correct workstations independently. This reduces the risk of musculoskeletal and postural disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) by teaching workers how to reduce exposure to CTS. Injury prevention techniques also include stretching programs.

Train the trainer: Education and training with managerial and supervising personnel to integrate them into the role of an on-site injury specialist. Athletic Trainers or Occupational and Physical Therapists can also implement these educational programs during employee training and safety meetings.

Early intervention programs: Being able to identify potential injuries before they occur is important. Experienced licensed and trained (ATCs, PTs, OTs) are on-site for prompt attention to those employees who may experience early signs and symptoms of a musculoskeletal disorder. The on-site health care professional plays a key role in the prevention process to decrease the incidence of workplace injury and illness. In addition, job coaching is a critical component in eliminating at-risk behaviors and promoting safe work habits. The goal and benefit of these programs are to address on-site issues/work processes, as well as reduce lost work hours and medical costs.

Companies that have implemented occupational health services including access to a PPP and on-site early intervention programs have seen a drastic reduction in injuries and lost-time workdays. Businesses and industries in southern Illinois have been proactive about the health and safety of their employees resulting in a positive impact of these services.

Dena Kirk is the Administrative Director for WORKcare.ready.well. If you are interested in more information about implementing occupational health services, a PPP, on-site services at your facility or would like more information regarding the financial impact, please contact Dena Kirk at 618-993-3817 or email Dena at dena.kirk@sih.net.

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