By Susan E. Campbell
The greatest asset a business has is its people. Keeping both workers and the workplace healthy and safe directly impacts a company’s bottom line and more.
The Center for Occupational Health (COH), a service of Glens Falls Hospital, helps businesses throughout the region maintain quality workplace health care. Last year, COH served 31,000 individuals and 2,000 companies from its locations in Queensbury, Wilton, and at individual company sites, said COH director Cathy Reichen, PT, DPT.
“Companies want to make sure that new hires are fit and capable of doing the work they are being asked to do,” Reichen said. “Injuries hit the bottom line with increased workers comp costs, lack of work, and decreased productivity.”
Often companies are driven to COH by compliance. For example, if a job requires using respirators to determine fitness, there are standards by OSHA that have to be met. COH performs the tests before initial hire and also annually, if required to comply with federal regulations.
“For firefighters, we will do lab work and physicals, an EKG and respirator-fit test,” said Reichen. “The goal is to create a team that is as healthy as possible for the demands of the job.”
Testing is tailored to the type of company and every company is different, Reichen said. Depending on the requirements of the work assignment, performing drug and alcohol screening, a lift test, hearing test and other measurements “are as important as a background check and references for bringing a new hire on board.”
The company may also want similar tests upon exiting a job, she said. Having performed testing at the onset and determined a baseline, the employee can make sure nothing has changed and can go into a new job knowing their numbers: glucose and cholesterol levels, blood pressure, hearing levels and so on.
“The right employee for the right job” and “keeping employees fit and healthy” are the mantras at COH. But questions do arise about working safely and ergonomics.
“Ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to a worker. If you try to fit the worker to a job, they may overextend and hurt themselves,” Reichen said.
COH teaches how to adjust the work station, chair, computer, or in combination to reduce load on the body. One size does not fit all.
“You never can get 100 percent of the people to fit into a job,” she said. “That’s why companies need an appropriate job description.”
Employers are not allowed to ask questions about an applicant’s medical condition.
“We are not the employer or the primary care provider,” said Reichen. “So we can be completely objective while collecting a full medical history.”
Sometimes job descriptions change, such as when adding a new task or operation. This is an occasion that the company can ask COH for an analysis or consultation, do pain reports, look at injuries, identify risks, and find ways to minimize potential dangers, said Reichen.
Injuries happen, and it’s important to treat individuals efficiently and effectively to return to the work place.
“Part of our return-to-work focus is making sure patients understand what happened and why, and get the problem fixed,” Reichen said.
When analyzing what happened, Reichen said to look first at the engineering for the source of the problem, and then the human.
“Was there a workstation or machine change? Or if it was the person, what can be done do effect a more efficient work posture?” she said.
COH has a program to help hospital employees quit smoking. It offers free counseling, free nicotine patches, and monitoring. While the smoking cessation outreach is not currently offered to non-employees, there are other departments within the hospital and the community with whom COH has connections.
“Glens Falls Hospital knows who to link companies with to provide educational programs and community-based services that help employees,” said Reichen.
For more information, call the center at 926-2140, or visit www.glensfallshospital.org/services/hospital/occupational-health.