Occupational Medicine Services (OMS) has a motto. “Your employees are our one and only focus.”
That focus entails matching the right employee to the job requirements. Sounds simple enough. If a perspective employee applies for a job as a roustabout and looks good to the human resources department, the job is his, right?
Not so fast.
Is this man physically strong enough to perform the job safely? Is there something in his medical history that might cause problems down the road? Can he pass a drug screening?
“This clinic specializes in helping employers pick the right person. We test and evaluate them so when that person goes on the rig or on the boat, they are matched for that job,” said OMS owner Dr. John Sweeney.
The process begins when an employer engages OMS for pre-employment screening. Individual, specific job descriptions are laid out as well as whether the employees will be covered under Workman’s Comp, the Longshoreman Act, or the Jones Act.
“We deal with a broad array of industry from maritime to retail and everything in between and have access to regulatory issues that primary care doctors don’t. The Coast Guard, for example, has very complex health and medical regulations. Most primary care physicians do not have those regulations nor do they understand the depth and complexity of those regulations,” Dr. Robert Davis said.
“And then the stick the government holds over the employers is the ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) and the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) which prevent discrimination. But time and again the courts have weighed in on testing as being not only OK but advisable,” Sweeney said.
The OMS pre-employment testing package includes thorough medical histories, comprehensive physical exams, EKG’s, dive and merchant marine physicals, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) hearing exams, complete blood testing and drug screenings – all in-house and in one day.
OMS also performs ergonomic and agility assessments. Ergonomic or functional testing is designed to mirror specific job descriptions. If the job requires heavy lifting, the Houma facility can simulate that to determine if a perspective employee’s body can handle the stress. OMS can also measure grip strength and range of motion, which will be added to an overall evaluation to determine a baseline of that person’s abilities.
“Our failure rates are sometimes 6 to 11 percent overall particularly on the ergonomic testing. You hate to keep somebody from getting a job, but the employer has an obligation to not put a person in a job they are physically unable to do. The benefit is how many of those people do their job safely without hurting themselves or anyone else,” Sweeney said.
If a previously evaluated employee is injured later on, OMS’s baseline testing data can be used in determining if that employee has suffered a permanent loss of function.
“The flip side of the business is when an employee gets injured. We have full x-ray and casting facilities. We do minor surgical procedures here; more serious injuries we can care for at one of the hospitals. We also have in-house rehab and physical therapist services as well,” Sweeney said.
“Quite often we get people coming in here with appendicitis, gall bladder attacks or something that I know they’ll need surgery for. If they come here first, I can cut through the red tape; call Terrebonne General’s ER, talk to the charge nurse, talk to the doctor on call, and get that patient fast-tracked directly into the ER instead of having to wait in the lobby,” Davis said.
Sweeney explained if an employer takes an injured worker to the emergency room and has to wait for medical evaluation, the employer runs the risk of that worker perhaps not getting a focused evaluation with knowledge of the OSHA recordability laws.
“They’re in an environment in which they may get a prescription that they don’t need, which causes a huge event from OSHA’s perspective. We can put that person back to work without any loss of time because we probably know their job description, we probably know the essential job functions and requirements and we certainly know their injury.”
“And we’re very familiar with the OSHA recordability laws; the concerns companies have for recordable job related injuries. By knowing those laws and by working comfortably in that environment, the employers realize that they’re not going to have a relatively non-significant, minor thing turn into what OSHA might look at as a recordable injury,” Sweeney explained.
According to Sweeney, the most interesting part of OMS’s work has always been the drug lab. He claims there is no limit to the creativeness donors will go through to produce a negative drug screen.
“Most of the interesting stuff comes in on the front end, before it comes out of the person. Or many times, never comes out of the person. Comes from another source. People will tape urine packs to the inside of their leg. The thing with that is you have to know that the urine you have is clean; quite often that’s not the case,” Sweeney said.
The drug screening process is set up to protect the donor, the person giving the specimen, because a false positive will not be tolerated. Federal law requires a very specific sequence in which a urine sample has to be in someone’s recognized custodial care, unbroken, all the way to the final test.
The physician explained that finding employees that are using cocaine and marijuana is extremely cost effective, citing studies that show employees under the influence of drugs have a high absentee rate and a higher injury rate.
“Keeping people safe, keeping people safely working, getting people recovered from an injury or illness and able to return to their previous employment is a challenge. The challenge on the front end is keeping the person from getting the job that they can’t do safely,” Sweeney said.
“I hate the term company doctor. I don’t view myself as a company doctor at all. When you use that term it implies that you’re aligning yourself with the employer to the point that you make that employee vulnerable. The employee comes first, no matter what,” Davis said.
“The breadth and depth of occupational medicine is far more expansive than most physicians and the public realize. It’s a niche we’ve gotten into that’s very expansive and detailed. Not to mention we literally do this 24 hours a day seven days a week. We are available to industry constantly because industry keeps on rolling,” Davis concluded.