When a local printing company employee injured his back in the bindery, he didn't have to explain his job to his doctor. The doctor had seen it himself and was able to treat the injury and offer safer ways to perform the work.
Industrial clinics are becoming the standard of non-emergency care when employees are injured on the job. And it's a partnership that works, according to Carl Havens, human resources director for Blaine Hudson Printing Co., one of thousands of Utah employers who have signed contracts with clinics to provide not only care but prevention services and drug screening.Industrial clinics have been around for nearly 20 years, but they're gaining popularity because of the range of services they provide, according to Jodi DeJong, director of occupational case management at the Salt Lake Industrial Clinic.
Employers can designate a clinic where injured workers must go for treatment. Besides assessing and treating workplace injuries, clinics provide drug and cholesterol screening, give onsite flu shots and more.
Some of them also provide on-site inspections, where doctors and therapists familiarize themselves with the tasks being performed and help improve safety.
"The thing we like is those clinics are set up to work with employers, rather than just employees. And not in a negative sense," Havens said.
Besides reducing feigned illness and injury, "We feel comfortable sending a worker to them because they tell us what he should or should not be able to do. Say someone has a strained muscle. They tell us when (an employee) is in physical therapy, how much he will need and what he can and can't do. It helps us so we don't require a worker to do something he or she shouldn't be doing.
"Traditionally, we find a lot faster healing process when one can come back to work and do even menial tasks instead of staying home and just watching TV. It's in our best interest and theirs to get them back to work as soon as possible."
Working with the William H. Brady Industrial Clinic also cuts down on the time that employees must wait to see a physician, he said. Workers are dispatched directly to the clinic, rather than to await doctor's appointments that may be several days away.
Safe-tech staff find that going out to client companies for drug and alcohol testing is easier on both employees and employers, according to the clinic's office manager, Heather Schoen. For one thing, it's harder for employees who are using substances to avoid the tests or smuggle in clean samples. And it cuts down on time missed from work.
There are also industrial clinics at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center and LDS Hospital. And in case of an emergency, workers are sent to area hospitals for more extensive treatment.
Not all clinics do onsite evaluation, according to WorkMed medical assistant Andrea Valdez. Each carves its own niche in industry. WorkMed, for example, also does sports and missionary physicals. They do some site visits to provide mass drug screens and flu shots, but they don't evaluate work sites to determine safety issues.
Preplacement screening for drugs has become a major focus for all the clinics, DeJong said. The companies find their dollars go a lot further if they can prescreen and eliminate applicants who use illegal drugs. And they get an insurance discount if they can show they participate in injury prevention.
Salt Lake Industrial Clinic is among those who do sound-level exposure checks, as well. And their staff doctor is a toxicologist who can treat chemical exposures. If hazardous material is spilled at work, clinic staff can go onsite and deal with it.
So what kind of injuries do the clinics see often? Besides sprains and back injuries, DeJong reports a lot of rotator cuff tears ("We see a lot of those in the airline industry because they're throwing bags in awk-ward, tight positions."), carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive motion injuries. Knee and ankle strains are common, as are slips and falls. At site assessments, doctors and staff show employers how to keep work areas clean, dry and clear of debris.
Some companies have found they can reduce injuries and illness by rotating jobs. Someone who takes a product from the production line and puts it in a box, for instance, may be assigned a different job every few hours.