Industrial Athletic Training

By: Susan Taah, ATC, LAT, CEIS

As athletic training continues to reach far beyond the sidelines of athletic fields, one emerging setting that is clamoring for athletic training services more than any other, is the industrial and occupational setting. Companies who profit off of the physical skills of their employees continue to realize the benefits of applying sports medicine principals to their populations. The future of industrial athletic training is exciting and while a few companies like Amazon and NASA have been quite public with their use of athletic trainers, there are many more possibilities to consider. Explore where athletic trainers already are, and where they are going over the next decade.

MANUFACTURING: For an industry that runs on efficiency of production, injuries are the enemy. Besides the employer cost of replacing or retraining injured employees, the injuries that can result from manufacturing goods and materials hurt the workers the most. Muscle memory and hard skills begin to deteriorate when they spend long periods of time away from their job & their finances can also suffer depending on their role. These employees will depend on their AT for prevention. ATs in these plants must know the manufacturing process so well, they could narrate your facility’s episode on How It’s Made. These jobs rarely change and even if there is a new process or machine being put in, the facility trusts their AT to be a part of the process and help them identify and mitigate musculoskeletal hazards. Manufacturing facilities are also enormous and EAPs must be tight and thorough to respond to emergencies that could result in the loss of life or limb. Collaborating with leadership towards a safer future is just one of the benefits of having an AT on site. 

AERONAUTICS: How do you keep an astronaut fit for duty? The same way you’d keep any other athlete fit for duty. At NASA, athletic trainers help take us to the stars. Within the Astronaut Strengthening, Conditioning and Rehabilitation group, ATs work with strength and conditioning staff to develop and implement workout plans for our home planet and in space, under the leadership of the flight surgeon they assess and treat injuries when they occur, and they facilitate a lot of research that has led to developments not just within aeronautics, but across multiple industries. Prescribing exercise in space, managing injuries that occur during training, and reconditioning astronauts who return to earth are part of daily life for these ATs.

FULFILLMENT/SHIPPING: Online commerce has exploded over the past two decades with most Americans shopping online at least once a month. As these employees handle packages at breakneck speeds, they need ATs more than ever. In fulfillment, employees work as a team to unload, select, sort, and load items for shipping. Once those conveyors start running, it is essential to keep as much of the team on the line as possible. Contusions from falling packages, sprains and strains from quickly loading and unloading packages, and other acute injuries are common, and ATs will often triage and provide aid on the line. Individuals who work out of the large fulfillment hubs are also high candidates for exertional heat illness due to a lack of climate control in the facilities and shipping containers. Prevention is key and ATs work with safety staff to provide water, fluid replacements, and other electrolyte products to the teams while they work and keep an eye out for employees who are showing signs of EHS.

DISTRIBUTION: Though distribution shares similar elements with fulfillment and shipping, there is a bit more control over daily volume and sales. The pace is more steady but repetitive and overexertion injuries still occur. And besides the injuries that occur at the main warehouse or facility, many of the injuries will occur in the local distribution market whether on the road or at client accounts.

CONSTRUCTION/UTILITIES: Constantly exposed to the elements and heights, ATs in this environment set the tone with their team. Being able to develop relationships at lightning speed is critical because these workers are often short on time. With all of the delays, demands, and stresses of construction work, it is easy for these workers to put their health and safety on the backburner to get the job done. You will be a healthcare advocate for your team. Days can be unpredictable for them so there is nothing more valuable than consistency from their AT. Someone who talks the talk and walks the walk consistently can make a measurable difference in the health of construction teams on the jobsite and at home.

FOOD & BEVERAGE PROCESSING/PACKAGING: Whether it’s a chocolatier, bread maker, or a winery, these processes are particular and at times production can overtake worker health. ATs in this setting support the hard workers that feed the nation. The Coronavirus pandemic shown a bright spotlight on the hazards of this setting when the meatpacking industry emerged as a hot zone. Not only did tens of thousands of employees contract the virus, hundreds of them died from it. These situations highlight the need for around the clock AT availability for these workers for more than musculoskeletal needs.

AGRICULTURE: Over 75% of farmworkers are immigrants and less than 5% of these workers have access to employer sponsored health insurance. Considering the high health risks associated with these jobs including insect and animal bites, dermatological disorders, exposure to toxins and chemicals, exertional heat stress, and more, there is a huge gap for athletic trainers to fill. Health promotion and education along with the ability for ATs to make appropriate referrals can save the lives of these hard workers and enable them to access affordable healthcare.

And these examples are just the beginning! AT principles can be applied in every occupational setting available. ATs with advanced emergency response skills can take their talents over to the oil and gas industry where they can triage and manage injuries on offshore drilling rigs. Ergonomic and prevention principles can be used by ATs to support mining workers. ATs can support the commercial fishing industry and curb drug abuse by treating injuries or helping them combat fatigue and manage energy in healthy ways. Even hospital workers who are one of the largest categories of occupational injuries can have their discomfort or injuries managed safely and effectively by an athletic trainer with an emphasis on total worker health.

Athletic trainers have long been supporting athletes who depend on their physical health to be successful. That is the case for millions of workers who go to their job every day and put their bodies to the test. There is no healthcare provider more capable than an athletic trainer to apply 360 care to these employees. What setting would you like to flex your toolbox in?

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