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A healthy workplace starts at the top 

by Jessica Wells, League Communications Specialist

When the League’s Director of Field Services Bryan Leaird told City of Asheboro Manager John Ogburn the city’s Workers’ Compensation and Property/Liability claims were high, Ogburn was committed to making an improvement.

Asheboro Safety Coordinator Steve Paye said "John is really energetic about our safety and well being. His motto is, ‘We’re family here in the City of Asheboro. We want you to work safely, go home safely and come back the next day."

The three noticed an overwhelming number of musculoskeletal injuries, so Leaird brought in Bryan Fass, president of Fit Responder, Inc. to do a train-the-trainer program. In just one year, the city was able to reduce the number of days out of work from 378 in 2013 to 99 in 2014 – most importantly, none of the 2014 injuries were musculoskeletal.

"The reason this worked is because of support from management. We’re amazed," Paye said. "When we started, we said, ‘If we’re one of the worst five, out of this five, we’re going to be the best.’ We were going to try to do this to the best of our ability."

Fass designed Fit Responder to reduce injuries among public safety employees by teaching four different tools: passive stretching, active stretching and two different types of self massage. He’s held Fit Responder trainings in 16 states tailored to each public safety profession.

These movements combat the aches and pains that are common among public safety employees. For instance, a police officer might sit in a car for hours a day then have to suddenly chase a suspect causing a hamstring injury.

"What do you think their hips, knees and shoulders feel like after 12 hours with 25-30 pounds of gear strapped to their bodies?" Fass 

said. "We develop a training system they can use whether they’re doing firearms, driving, or classroom-based training – the techniques become part of the system, but at the same time, they are easy for anyone in public safety to do. You do them, and you feel better."

Fass said the most difficult part of the process is making the techniques habit. To launch the culture change, Paye decided to pull leaders from each department who would serve as ambassadors of the training.

Within a few months, most of the city’s 342 full-time employees were participating. The training included police, fire, and a pilot program designed for general employees.

"We thought the police and fire departments would be the easiest because they train together all the time, and our biggest sell would be the municipal employees, but they took a hold of it and ran with it," Paye said.

Even employees who were skeptical at first are now believers – one employee who suffered from back pain didn’t want to participate, but after a month of doing the stretches, he’s pain free and off of his pain medications.

"He does this training even on the weekends," Paye said. "We tried to explain that it was for the benefit of all of us at the city and for the employees themselves – you’re out of work, you hurt, you’re in pain, you take pain medication, and you cant do certain things."

Fewer claims mean healthier employees and a healthier insurance pool, according to Leaird.

"Any time there’s a hit to the pool, you have to look at overall health of the pool. Being in the pool is about sharing of losses," Leaird said. "By helping Asheboro getting its losses down, everyone benefits."

Fass said the cost of the training is a percentage of what one injury costs, and most departments see a minimum of 20 percent reduction with most in the 40 to 50 percent range.

"The biggest thing is to not focus on the perceived cost of doing it," Fass said. "The question is really ‘What’s the cost if you don’t?’"

Asheboro employees continue to do the stretches, and new employees receive the training during orientation. The improvement also inspired the city to incorporate healthier foods into workplace functions.

"If we can do what we did with this injury prevention program in a year," Paye said. "We can conquer anything."