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TRIBUNE PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - People who work under noisy conditions can have their hearing checked in booths such as this one at Adventist Parkrose Medical Plaza.Some doctors keep a close eye on cancer cells, others monitor blood sugar levels. For some in the medical profession, the concern is workplace health and safety.


Dr. David Hall, who practices occupational medicine at Adventist Parkrose Medical Plaza, in Portland, describes occupational medicine as “kind of a little unknown niche of medicine.”

Hall added, “It’s actually a residency program you can complete. It takes three years after medical school, then you are eligible to take your boards in occupational medicine.”

Hall describes his specialty as “the intersection of medicine and industry.” These doctors handle many issues, including employee wellness.

“A lot of companies are realizing that keeping their employees healthy is a benefit not only to their employees, but it helps a company have better productivity,” he said, noting that another function of the specialty is to treat work injuries (worker’s comp).

“There’s a lot of things in between,” Hall pointed out. “There are a lot of safety issues. Day to day, I do a lot of physical exams for a variety of things.” Commercial drivers, for example, are required to get medical certification.

“I see a lot of people starting new jobs,” he said. “A lot of companies require them to get a medical clearance to start their work. When a department hires a new firefighter or a police officer, they want to make sure that they don’t have any medical problems that would interfere with a job. I do quite a few of those.”

An occupational medicine doctor may have to deal with toxicology and epidemiology. There are people who work at jobs where they’re exposed to various chemicals, Hall said. Examples of this include asbestos exposure.

“There’s a whole plethora of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requirements on employers that if their employees have that exposure, they need to be monitored over time to make sure they’re not getting sick,” he said.

While most of us hope we never suffer a workplace injury, there are some tips we should be aware of after we clock in for work each day.

Hall commonly sees back and shoulder injuries at the work place and back injuries can result from heavy lifting. He said what’s more important than lifting technique is the amount of weight you’re lifting. “You can use perfect technique, but if you’re lifting too much weight, you’re still at high risk of injury.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Dr. David Hall practices occupational medicine at Adventist Parkrose Medical Plaza. Hall said some industries require their employees to lift 75 or 100 pounds at a time. “That’s a really high-risk thing to do,” he added. “One of my missions with back injuries is to point out that lifting technique is way over emphasized.”

Some careers you may not associate with lifting injuries. Take, for example, the healthcare industry.

“In healthcare, often patients need to get moved. Often that’s done by healthcare workers lifting the patients,” Hall said.

Some companies do better than others at noticing potential workplace safety problems.

“I see a huge variety. Every employer is different,” he said. “Some are highly prepared and really proactive. They try to make sure that they prevent all of these known things ahead of time. I see the other side, where companies don’t seem to have any thought of it at all, and just when they have an injured worker, they just utilize the emergency medical system. So it varies widely.”

Hall will talk with employers and visit job sites. He will encourage employers to think about safety ahead of time.

Hall said most everyone recovers well from workplace injuries. “It’s nice to work through the process. You see how they’re injured, but it’s gratifying to work with them and see them return to work and feel good again.”

TIPS FOR KEEPING HEALTHY AND SAFE ON THE JOB

  • Don’t lift more than 35 pounds. If you’re really strong, you can go to, perhaps, 50 pounds.
  • Slips and falls are common at office jobs. Watch stairways carefully. Watch for phone cords or wet floors. Use a proper ladder or foot stool, instead of a chair, to reach something high on a wall.
  • Neck and back pain can result from sitting too long at the work computer. Dr. Hall suggests you move and change your posture at work. Consider a stand-up desk, that allows you to perform your work, at times, while standing. If you’re at your work computer, get up after 20 minutes and move around for a couple of minutes. Sitting for too long can be hard on your back, neck and wrists.
  • Pay attention to ergonomics, such as proper posture at your office computer.
  • Stay in good physical fitness
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