Public sector employees are the engine that drive our country, from building highways to protecting citizens from perils such as crime, building hazards and fires. These individuals face occupational injury risks which make up a significant percentage of the overall national worker injury rates. In 2017 the National Safety Council (NSC) reported that public sector employees made up 28% of non-fatal injuries and 21% of all workplace fatalities.
These shocking statistics show how important occupational therapy and employee training is to keeping our public sector workers safe and focused on improving our way of life. This article takes a closer look into occupational therapy's role in helping public sector employees recover and rehabilitate from work-place injuries, focusing on professions such as firefighters, police officers and construction workers.
What is Occupational Therapy?
The American Occupational Therapy Association defines occupational therapy as, "recovery and rehabilitation practices which help people to regain the skills necessary for them to continue to participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities." Occupational therapy differs from physical therapy as it focuses on improving injured employees' ability to perform daily activities and physical therapy focuses on improving the overall movement of the human body.
Examples of occupational therapy practices include:
- Personalized patient evaluations determining individualized recovery and rehabilitation goals
- Customized treatment programs to improve the injured employee's ability to perform daily activities which are part of their normal lifestyle
- Comprehensive home and job-site evaluations with recommendations for adaption to the employee's capabilities
- Recommendations and customized training using adaptive equipment which maximizes the employee's abilities
- Outcome assessments to evaluate progress on the employee's specific recovery/rehabilitative plan and modify plans as needed to achieve overall goals
Three Public Occupations in Need of Occupational Therapy
Three public sector professions that need occupational therapy include firefighters, police officers (both state & local) and construction employees. All three of these occupations are crucial to providing basic services to citizens across the country.
It is no secret that firefighters have extremely dangerous jobs. Any profession that requires going into a burning structure to preserve life is going to have its fair share of injuries and fatalities. Occupational therapy can play a key role in ensuring firefighters are ready for the immense stress the position calls for at any given time.
One strategy occupational therapists can use for firefighters is work conditioning. This approach helps restore performance skills for firefighters who are recovering from a long-term injury or illness. By focusing on restoring musculoskeletal and cardiovascular strength, these heroes can return to safely serving their local communities. Practicing activities related to actual working conditions is critical in protecting firefighters and the citizens they serve daily.
Local & State Police Officers
Police work is a very dangerous profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that police and sheriff’s patrol officers had 108 fatalities in 2018, up 14% from 2017. This does not account for the vast array of non-fatal injuries that can occur while on the job, from ergonomic issues due to being in a vehicle for long periods to sustaining injuries while detaining criminals.
Occupational therapy can assist injured police officers by addressing gaps between the demands of their jobs and an injured officer's existing performance abilities. This occupational therapy approach is referred to as acute injury and illness management, which helps focus post-injury recovery on getting officers ready for the physical demands of being in the field protecting citizens from criminal activities. Any performance gaps can put officers at risk of injuries. Occupational therapy can help mitigate this exposure to keep them safe.
The construction industry is in the top tier of industries where employee injuries and fatalities are a major risk year over year. One shocking report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that even though construction workers only make up around 4% of the national employee count, this industry is responsible for 21% of all fatalities in the workplace. These injuries slow down crucial projects to repair and build the infrastructure citizens utilize daily, from highways to sewer lines.
Occupational therapy is a major need for this industry to keep employees on the job through customized post-injury recovery plans. One specific occupational therapy approach is the use of functional capacity evaluation (FCE) which helps determine safe job matches for return to work programs. This helps determine reasonable accommodations necessary for getting injured workers reinstated and provides recommendations for future consultations. This can be pivotal to establishing disability ratings for workers' compensation insurance purposes. Return to work programs have also been known to increase employee engagement post-injury and reduce risks of injured employees seeking outside legal representation.
Public sector employees play a crucial role in keeping our local communities safe and efficient for everyday living. Occupational therapy can play a big role in creating specialized programs to help injured employees get back to performing at optimized levels. Customizing treatment plans to specific job duties is the biggest way occupational therapy can help return these public sector employees to their pre-injury status; keeping our cities, state, and entire country rolling on to prosperity.
If your local or state government employees need assistance when it comes to implementing occupational therapy into workplace injury prevention, please contact Work-Fit to see how their services can help your organization today!