Lost time records revealed the truck drivers with a higher risk of back injury had 65 percent more lost workdays attributed to cumulative trauma injuries compared with acute trauma injuries.
A study, published in the February issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, detailed a fitness-for-duty program targeted at employees of the Chevron Products Co.'s Marketing Operations business, which employs 600 workers in terminals in 40 cities across the country. From 1997 through March 2000, approximately 44 percent of the OSHA recordables at the terminals were back/shoulder/neck injuries. That data includes not only the truck drivers, but also supervisors, office assistants and mechanics who also work at the terminals. Almost all, 81 percent, of the back/shoulder/neck injuries were categorized as cumulative trauma injuries versus 19 percent classified as acute trauma injuries.
From 1997 through 2000, the Marketing Operations business reported 1,287 lost workdays attributed to cumulative trauma injuries and 777 lost work days because of acute trauma injuries among truck drivers. The truck driver workforce had 65 percent more lost workdays attributed to cumulative trauma injuries than there were for acute trauma injuries.
To address the issue, ChevronTexaco decided to implement a medical fitness-for-duty program. A one-year development period included obtaining management and supervisor approval, validating the truck driver job requirements, developing testing protocols and arranging a national agreement with a network of trained physical and occupational therapists. The program was initially piloted at three ChevronTexaco worksites located in Southern California. A phased-in fitness-for-duty program was implemented for ChevronTexaco's professional truck drivers in North America afterward.
In the first year of the program, 109 functional capacity evaluations (FCEs) were completed by trained clinicians, and 88 percent of candidates were found "able to work without restrictions," 6 percent were found "able to work with caution," and 6 percent were found "medical intervention and/or release recommended."
The program consists of three components: physical examination (both the physical examination mandated by the Department of Transportation and a FCE by the company); education on safe body mechanics and safe lifting techniques; and physical fitness. To appeal to even the most sedentary employees who would not pay for the cost of a membership to a fitness center, the company offered to pay the monthly membership dues for all drivers as part of the fitness-for-duty program.
"A goal of the program is to provide a proactive program aimed at reducing the incidence and lost workdays of musculoskeletal injuries in the truck driver workforce," said study author Sara R. Kashima, MS, with ChevronTexaco's Health and Medical Services Department.
Kashima said the company learned a number of lessons while implementing a multi-site fitness-for-duty program:
- Communicate with the authorized providers well in advance of the programs implementation.
- Share the testing protocol used during the truck driver examination with the authorized providers.
- Stress the confidentiality of the employee's medical records and how the documents are stored.
- Involve union representatives on the process and communicate plans with them during the planning stages.
- Clearly communicate with physicians the limited extent of their liability in the rare case a driver is injured during the FCE.
Currently, ChevronTexaco truck drivers are required to complete the periodic FCE, and all new hire candidates must successfully complete the the FCE before being hired as a professional truck driver.
The next phase of the fit-for- duty program will be implementing a return-to-work program for drivers who have experienced an injury or who are returning after an extended leave of absence.