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THE ROLE OF THE PHYSIO AS LOGISTICS INDUSTRY STRETCHED TO BREAKING POINT
The current skills shortage across the logistics and supply chain sectors is well documented and covers a multitude of different disciplines – from senior operations specialists to those taking on graduate roles, and from warehouse operatives to large goods drivers.
Of those roles, internal recruiters are facing the biggest headache when it comes to finding those candidates that are willing to spend the majority of their working week on the roads. This problem has only been exacerbated by the fact that many firms have become somewhat reliant on Eastern European drivers, a portion of which are returning to the continent in light of the ongoing Brexit conundrum and more the favourable economic landscape overseas. This conundrum, in conjunction with the industry’s failure to attract younger workers, is having a detrimental effect and one that could potentially harm the economy.
An age-old problem?
According to a 2018 report by the union Unite, the average age of a large goods vehicle driver increased from 45.3 years in 2001 to 48 in 2016, with 13 per cent aged over 60 and only 1 per cent under 25. As you would expect from an aging workforce, the levels of injury and ill-health are high for the transportation and storage sector. The HSE claims that 52,000 people suffered from a work-related illness and 39,000 had reported a non-fatal injury. Whilst 29% of cases were recorded as either stress, depression or anxiety, the most common form of workplace injury was musculoskeletal (MSK), accounting for 53 per cent of all cases.
In an industry where workers are expected to drive long hours or lift heavy goods, this isn’t unexpected, and therefore I believe that HR teams must take the opportunity to tackle this problem both through preventing MSK conditions and by helping those already suffering with an injury.
Seeking the advice and expertise of physiotherapists in order to help drivers stay fit, healthy and pain free, would lead to significant benefits for any logistics company. By promoting health and wellbeing, they will be able to reduce sick leave, and thereby ease the skills shortage to some extent. In addition, a positive employee experience also goes hand-in-hand with a higher calibre of applicant, which is an additional bonus in a competitive climate.
Teaming up with a physiotherapist to create a series of virtual exercise tutorials could be one way to help employees avoid MSK conditions. This could be hosted on a company intranet portal or even on a YouTube page. The majority of logistics and transportation companies also utilise on-board computers to monitor driver performance. The tutorials could be integrated on those more advanced systems that incorporate a video screen. Drivers could then access these tutorials and perform exercises whilst enjoying a coffee break, or when they are enjoying downtime in the cab itself.
I would also encourage HR teams to make physio-led exercise sessions an important part of any work induction, especially for workers expected to lift heavy volumes or drive long hours. Many companies have already rolled out such modules, however the advice can be swiftly forgotten once the session is over. That is why it is a good idea to record the training and make it downloadable, so staff can access it in the future, or even create a useful e-book that contains diagrams of key exercises.
Helping injured employees
Even if a business does take proactive measures to prevent MSK conditions, there will be instances where employees do pick up certain injuries – and there is now a wider range of solutions in the marketplace to help support them. Physiotherapists are the best clinicians to manage MSK conditions and quick diagnosis is key for a fast recovery, but a face-to-face appointment is not always required.
Leading research has found that video physiotherapy consultations are as effective as face-to-face appointments and our experience – as a provider – is that 3 in 4 people can be triaged, assessed and supported online without any need for physical treatment. However, should this be necessary, we organise this as part of our service. We have also teamed up with a GP service and a psychology service to offer a complete healthcare package. Our team of physiotherapists are trained as frontline clinicians, so they are also able to screen for any underlying medical issues and advise on appropriate action if required.
Whilst logistics and transportation companies explore new ways to attract new talent to ease the growing skills shortage, they should also be working more closely to protect existing staff and assist those already suffering with injuries. Improved access to digital health solutions, such as an online videocall service, now provide businesses with a solid return on investment due to a reduction in absenteeism levels and improved employee engagement and productivity.