Despite litigation that reduced the prescription of opioids, a National Safety Council survey indicates that 75% of employers experience continued impact from opioids in their workplace. Workers with pain medication disorders miss an average of 29 scheduled work days per year or almost three times the missed days compared to the average worker.
“Employers have to find alternative solutions for workers recovering from injuries, contending with chronic pain that limits their ability to return to normal work duties,” said Vik Ramaswamy, Senior Risk Control Manager at Safety National. “With the right wellness strategies, employers can encourage their workforce to mitigate chronic pain issues.”
Getting ahead of chronic pain can prove challenging, but these strategies can help.
1. Encourage the workforce to get enough sleep.
The relationship between chronic pain and lack of sleep is understood as a cause of sleep deprivation. However, a study has shown that lack of sleep is a stronger and more reliable predictor of chronic pain. Consider the following strategies to improve sleep habits among the workforce.
- Keep shift work consistent and reduce night or swing shifts where possible. Night shift work can represent a substantially higher risk of injury, as high as 43%, compared to day shifts. Minimizing the workforce during these shifts or ceding tasks to third parties can meaningfully impact injury rates and, consequently, chronic pain issues from those injuries.
- Encourage the diagnosis and prevention of sleep apnea. A study published in the Lancet estimated that nearly a billion people worldwide over the age of 30 suffer from some form of mild to obstructive sleep apnea. Case prevalence was highest in China and the US, accounting for almost a third of adults.
2. Talk with your TPA or carrier for resources on developing a work conditioning program for employees returning from injury.
Work conditioning is a rigorous program of exercises with the intention of returning adequate physical capacity for the worker to resume their normal job duties with minimized risk of injury recurrence and pain.
- Communicate this expectation to their occupational physician. If work reconditioning is part of a return-to-work strategy, then clarifying or amending work restrictions to accommodate exercises should be done at the clinician’s direction.
- Consider using a third party to administer the program, and avoid doing it in-house. Running a program for workers with various injuries requires significant job knowledge. Using a third party prevents employers from incurring additional liabilities associated with unintentionally hurting their returning employees through improper exercises and training. Vet each prospective vendor to ensure they have adequate liability insurance in case subrogation is necessary and no prohibitive indemnities.