Originally published January 12, 2023 in OH&S
By Warren Alston, Sr. Division Manager, EMT/OHT, Pivot Onsite Innovations
Injuries are bound to happen in high-risk environments, but it’s often a constant fear in the back of workers’ minds. When an injury does occur, they may be unsure of what to do and what to expect from a treatment and recovery standpoint. This uncertainty causes fear across the workforce. It’s in that moment of panic when occupational health technicians step in and step up, taking care of the injured worker and following up with employees to make sure they have the resources they need to overcome the fear.
Occupational health technicians (OHTs) are first responders when injuries or accidents occur on a worksite, serving as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics to provide immediate and appropriate injury management. But injury care is just one aspect of OHT services on a worksite.
OHTs are a key component of occupational health programs on worksites ranging from construction to manufacturing. Unlike traditional EMTs, they go deeper into the continuum of care to address workers’ whole health and wellbeing. Through this level of care, OHTs build strong relationships with workers, becoming a valuable and integral part of a worksite’s overall health and performance.
The Role of OHTs on Worksites
OHTs are embedded into the worksite as a first line of response when workers are injured, but their ongoing presence at the jobsite enables them to take a more active role in the health and wellbeing of the workers. Being on the same worksite over long periods also gives OHTs insights into what injuries occur most often, helping them provide the appropriate treatment more quickly, while also building preventative programs to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. OHTs are able to work with site leadership to identify health priorities and proactive measures to avoid illnesses and injuries.
- Injury Care
OHTs take the clinical skills and principles of EMT or paramedic services and tailor them to occupational health work. An OHT is often brought on to a worksite at the start of a contract. They establish a medical clinic onsite supplied with the same medical equipment kept on ambulances – like defibrillators, trauma supplies, etc. – and additional equipment based on the specifics of the work on that site. A steel mill clinic might have more burn equipment, while a gas plant clinic might have more bandaging and eye equipment. Part of an OHT’s responsibility is to understand the sites they are working on and the potential injuries that could happen.
- Reducing OSHA Recordables
Along with emergency and injury care, OHTs help worksites comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements and reduce OSHA recordable injuries – a high priority for site leaders looking to save money on workers’ compensation, while also ensuring employees receive the care and services they require. OHTs are trained to manage injuries onsite and are invested in the healing journey of an employee following an incident. When a worker suffers from a laceration wound, the OHT will provide immediate care to address the wound and, since they’re onsite, they’re able to monitor the worker every day as it heals. This prolonged care and attention help site leadership reduce workers’ compensation costs, while also helping employees not have to take time away from the site.
- Case Management
Any time a worker is dealing with an injury, whether it happened during an incident or has become a chronic issue, OHTs do their best to help workers manage and care for it. If a worker hurts their shoulder, an OHT will follow up with them daily making sure the pain hasn’t worsened or returned. OHTs will take the extra step to help workers get the care they need by identifying necessary medical tests and making the overall health care process easier and less confusing for workers. The personal touch OHTs provide for injured workers leads to faster and more successful recoveries.
- Promoting Wellness
OHTs help site leadership take a proactive approach to worker health and wellbeing. They conduct federally mandated medical surveillance programs including health screenings, vision and hearing testing, immunizations, and more. OHTs also partner with site leadership to provide access to wellness services for employees ranging from behavioral and mental health care resources to site-specific safety initiatives such as hydration reminders. OHTs are more than just first responders, they’re true partners for site leaders when it comes to supporting the safety and health of workers.
The Importance of Relationship Building
Close personal relationships between OHTs and workers are key to an effective occupational health program. Once trust is built with workers on a site, OHTs are really able to make an impact on the overall health and wellbeing of the site. When workers trust the onsite clinicians, they’re more willing to open up about injuries or illnesses that may not be detectable from the outside. OHTs can then intervene and prevent more serious injuries from occurring due to inaction.
For example, a worker may have a long-lasting headache and gets concerned enough to tell the OHT they’ve come to trust. The OHT can then check their blood pressure, and if the reading is higher than it should be, the OHT can refer the worker to their primary doctor to get the right diagnosis and medications to treat the issue. Without that level of care from the OHT, the worker’s undetected high blood pressure could have caused a heart attack or stroke down the line.
Building the trust to get to that point with workers is often the most challenging piece of an OHT’s job. It’s common for workers on a construction or manufacturing site to be weary of onsite clinicians such as OHTs due to the challenging nature of the job. Taking time off can impact a worker’s income, so they’re often hesitant to come forward with a health concern if it could mean having to spend time away from work. This stigma makes it critically important for OHTs to quickly form relationships and build trust with workers.
The foundation of trust starts forming on day one at the site. Participating in site-specific orientation is a key first step to developing relationships with workers. OHT involvement in pre-employment drug testing offers an early opportunity to meet workers and make a strong first impression with a comfortable experience. If an OHT can show their expertise, understanding of the industry or trade and passion for caring for workers, trust will come easily. With that foundation of trust established, workers feel empowered to take control of their own health and OHTs are able to learn and understand the health conditions present on a site and better prepare for and prevent injuries.
Better Health and Better Outcomes
OHTs are strategic partners for site leadership looking to prevent injuries, reduce OSHA recordables and keep workers healthy and productive. They often become an extended member of the team and work closely with leadership to develop care guidelines and safety procedures that fit the specific needs of the worksite and the trade. By developing personal relationships with workers, OHTs are able to drive improved health and wellness across the site leading to better outcomes for both workers and site leadership.