Supply Chain Management and Injury Prevention

Andrew Berry01/04/2023

The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have taken long-overlooked supply chain operations and put them in the spotlight. As the pandemic evolved, so too did the inflection points and potential for disruptions. Consumers faced toilet paper shortages in May 2020 and in spring of 2021, Californians would lose count trying to track the number of container ships anchored off of the coast, waiting to reach ports. Many pandemic-induced bottle necks have faded, but some, including an extended truck driver shortage, remain.1

The spotlight’s glare has also put increased focus on injuries in the supply chain system. Warehouse workers and truck drivers, two essential segments of the supply chain employee base, both experience injuries at rates higher than the national average.2,3 With supply chain operations predicted to continue robust growth, supply chain employers have an opportunity to examine and improve their injury prevention programs. Fortunately, with onsite, medical center-based, and telehealth solutions available, supply chain employers have multiple options for injury prevention.

Supply chain boom

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data reveals exponential growth in the number of supply chain employees, with the industry hitting a high of 1,791,000 employees in June 20224 - an increase of more than 150,000 employees from June 2021. Supply chain employee count has grown by just over 250 percent since January 2012 (the earliest BLS data point).

In 2021, the bulk of supply chain employees worked in warehousing and distribution or transportation. There were 310,000 truck and trailer operators and just shy of 750,000 employees working in material movement, order filling, and shipping.5 In 2021, Forbes’ business council called warehousing “a steam train with no end in sight,” and the number of employees working in supply chain can only grow with each new distribution and fulfillment center.

Warehousing and trucking injuries

Both warehousing and trucking see higher-than-average injury rates when compared to the private industry employees as whole. The gold standard for injury rates in the US is the number of injury cases per 100 FTE (full-time equivalent) workers. According to BLS statistics, the 2021 injury rate for private industry employers was 2.3 cases per 100 FTE.6 In truck transportation this number was 3.1 injury cases per 100 FTE, and in warehousing it currently stands at 4.0 injury cases per 100 FTE.7 Furthermore, transportation and shipping have the second-largest amount of workplace injuries resulting in days away from work.8 Beyond the obvious harm to employees these high injury rates entail, there is also a business case for preventing injuries – U.S. businesses spend more than one billion dollars a week on serious, nonfatal workplace injuries.

Keeping truckers on the road

The ongoing trucker shortage in the U.S. has caused supply chain bottlenecks. In many cases, there are not enough truckers to get materials and products to the right location on time. Trucking, by nature, is a dangerous occupation – more than 15 percent of all on-the-job-deaths occur in trucking.9

Beyond time on the road, trucking is also hard on the body. Hours of stationary time interrupted by short bursts of heavy lifting and movement can cause a significant amount of wear-and-tear. When truckers are driving, their bodies are exposed to long-term vibration that can lead to spine injuries and trauma.10 To that point, a study found that truck drivers are two to three times more likely than the average employee to have at least one musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) in a working year.11

While the strenuous demands of the job may not change, truckers can avoid back injuries and MSDs by practicing safe lifting techniques and stretches to keep their muscles loose. A Concentra® physical therapist or certified athletic trainer can teach truckers safe lifting techniques and stretches to perform during breaks to keep their bodies fresh and ready to work. Additionally, our therapists and trainers can help prevent injuries by working with drivers to strengthen their bodies and educate drivers on the optimal ergonomic settings for their seat and cab.

Employers can also help prevent injuries by making health care more accessible on the road. With Concentra Telemed®, truckers can see a Concentra clinician from their phone, tablet, or computer – no need to drive off their route to reach a medical center. Drivers can use Concentra Telemed for minor work injuries, including strains and sprains, lacerations, minor burns, repetitive-use-injuries, and contusions. By using telemedicine to get care right away, drivers can help avoid secondary injuries caused by disruptions elsewhere in the body. Talk to one of our experts to see if Concentra Telemed is a good match for your workforce.

Warehouse health

As e-commerce continues to grow, the number of employees working in warehouses is expected to grow with it – the BLS forecasts that more than two million employees will work in warehouses by 2030.12 Although known for good wages and benefits, warehouse jobs also see high turnover rates, with 43 percent of warehouse workforces changing annually and 60 percent of that turnover occurring before employees reach their 90-day mark.13 Unfortunately, high turnover and high injury rates typically go together. Studies have shown that employees in their first month of a job have much higher injury rates than those of workers with more than one year in the job.14 Continuous tenure is one of the best protections against injury. 

For new employees, injury prevention needs to start before they’re hired. Pre-employment physicals or human performance evaluations (HPE) help ensure that potential employees can perform the tasks and duties of their jobs by replicating the physical demands associated with a specific job and assessing a prospective employee’s performance. HPEs can also identify ergonomic risk factors that may lead to injury, so that a physical therapist can help correct these issues before the employee starts.

As with truckers, employers also have a chance to bring care closer to warehouse employees. With onsite physical therapy and athletic training services, employers can conveniently and cost-effectively manage musculoskeletal complaints on-site before they become disabling injuries. These services run the gamut of preventive care, with core components including the following:15

  • New employee readiness programs
  • Preventive musculoskeletal screening
  • Body mechanics training and job coaching
  • Musculoskeletal first aid management
  • Industrial ergonomics analyses
  • Health and well-being promotion
  • Job function analyses
  • Employee education
  • Physical therapy
  • Work readiness and conditioning

Onsite services are not just for mega-warehouses and large distribution centers; Concentra’s models offer differing levels of service to fit employers’ budgets and specific needs. Connect with an expert to see how Concentra onsite preventive services fit with your injury prevention objectives.

Make sure employee health isn’t a disruption

With so many external factors putting strain on supply chains, one thing employers shouldn’t have to worry about is employee health. Find out how Concentra can help protect employee health by contacting a Concentra representative today.


NOTES

  1. Driver shortage eases slightly in 2022 but relief likely temporary, ATA reports,” by Colin Campbell. Transport Dive. October 25, 2022.
  2. Modern Warehouse Safety Problems,” by David Paoletta. EHS Today. December 5, 2019.
  3. Workplace Hazards of Truck Drivers,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. April 2015.
  4. Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics Survey,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. n.d.
  5. Industries at a Glance: Warehousing and Storage,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. n.d.
  6. Employer-Reported Workplace Injuries and Illnesses – 2021,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. November 9, 2022.
  7. Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. n.d.
  8. Workplace Injuries by the Numbers,” National Safety Council. n.d.
  9. Federal Data Shows Trucking Remains One of America’s Deadliest Jobs,” by Jerry Hirsch. Trucks.com. January 11, 2021.
  10. Whole-Body Vibration,” Texas Department of Insurance. n.d.
  11. Truckers Face Heightened Risk of Musculoskeletal Disorders,” by Steve Bouchard. Trucknews.com. May 3, 2021.
  12. 5 Insightful Statistics Related to Warehouse Safety,” by Fady Attia. Damotech. January 5, 2021.
  13. Study Finds Persistence of Higher Injury Risk for New Workers,” Institute for Work and Health. July 26, 2012.
  14. F.C. Breslin, P. Smith. Trial by Fire: A Multivariate Examination of the Relation Between Job Tenure and Work Injuries. 2006. 63(1):27-32
  15. Onsite Preventive Services,” Concentra. n.d.