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Occupational health management at Opel: Reduction in days of sick leave as a result of orthopedic orthoses Foot consultations for rapid assistance

At its headquarters in Rüsselsheim (Germany), Opel is working to build up its occupational health management framework and is working with external partners in order to achieve this. Life talked to Dr. med. Anne-Marie Albuszies, head of the on-site medical service, and Wolfgang Giebeler and Patric Konrad from G&M Orthopädie-Technik Ober­ursel GmbH about the healthcare services offered, such as foot consultations.

“The wellbeing of employees, and consequently occupational health and safety as a whole, are a crucial factor in the success and productivity of our company. Accordingly, the measures that we offer here at Opel as part of our occupational health scheme are very diverse,” explains Dr. med. Anne-Marie Albuszies, head of the on-site medical service at Opel in Rüsselsheim. “They range from active lunch breaks with guided sports activities through to our campaign on working healthily and safely with a zero blood-alcohol level. They also include health days and the annual Health & Safety Week, where we provide our employees with comprehensive information on topics related to occupational health and safety.”

A great advantage: Mobile healthcare service

Dr. med. Anne-Marie Albuszies, head of the on-site medical service at Opel’s site in Rüsselsheim.
Dr. med. Anne-Marie Albuszies, head of the on-site medical service at Opel’s site in Rüsselsheim.

A recent initiative has seen the company physicians out and about with their “health-mobile” vehicle around the Opel premises, which cover an area of around two square kilometers. “We wanted to use this vehicle to bring specific healthcare topics into the individual areas of the site and to bridge the large physical distances between the employees and the on-site medical service,” explains Dr. Anne-Marie Albuszies. The health-mobile is used for vaccination appointments, travel medicine consultations, and massages. And Wolfgang Giebeler is on the move with the team too. The director of G&M Orthopädie-Technik Oberursel offers on-site foot consultation sessions in the vehicle. This includes producing and adjusting orthopedic foot orthosis for safety shoes. This is an especially important issue for the on-site physician, as the company health report shows that musculoskeletal disorders are responsible for a significant proportion of the sick days taken in the industrial division. “This is in line with the scale typically expected in the automotive industry,” says Dr. Anne-Marie Albuszies. “Many of these illnesses are due to misalignments of the foot or weaknesses in the foot arches. Problems with the foot statics can work their way upward to cause issues in the spine, meaning that pain in the neck and spine can also be attributed to weak foot arches. If we suggest measures such as physiotherapy or sports to our employees, they often do not take up these offers. With a simple aid such as a foot orthosis, however, we can give our employees real , rapid help in the workplace.”

External partners simplify processes

5,000 of the 15,000 employees at Opel’s site in Rüsselsheim wear safety shoes. Fitting and issuing orthopedic foot orthoses in these shoes falls under the requirements set out by the German trade associations, which must be complied with in order to protect employees. For instance, foot orthoses must be design-tested in combination with the model of safety shoe that is used. Therefore, employees cannot simply use their own privately obtained orthopedic foot orthoses in their safety shoes. There are good reasons for this: If, for example, the safety distance between the toes and the steel cap of the shoe is reduced by an unsuitable foot orthosis, this is dangerous and can lead to severe injuries if something heavy falls on the shoe.
Unlike orthoses for private use, the costs of foot orthoses used at work are not reimbursed via the statutory health insurance providers, but via the statutory pension insurance scheme, as long as the employee is insured and liable to pay contributions for at least 15 years. For a first-time request , several detailed forms containing up to seven pages have to be filled out and medical certification obtained. “Even when foot orthoses are prescribed by a patient’s regular physician, the whole process is often complex and drawn-out – employees often give up, which is a shame,” says Dr. Anne-Marie Albuszies. “And my colleagues and I, too, have had to spend large amounts of time filling out requests in the past. With the foot consultation sessions, we now hope to simplify the process with the help of a skilled external partner, so that employees can get the right protective equipment , including appropriate foot orthoses, as quickly as possible.”

A strong back begins in the feet

Wolfgang Giebeler (left), director of G&M Orthopädie-Technik Oberursel , and Patric Konrad, head of internal sales and QM.
Wolfgang Giebeler (left), director of G&M Orthopädie-Technik Oberursel , and Patric Konrad, head of internal sales and QM.

The Health & Safety Week 2016 was the launching point for the foot consultation sessions at the automotive manufacturer’s premises in Rüsselsheim. “During this week, we led a campaign all about back health in a pilot area where sick leave due to musculoskeletal disorders is especially high. Bauerfeind and G&M Orthopädie-Technik Oberursel helped present this campaign with us,” says Dr. Anne-Marie Albuszies. “Our employees had measurements taken from head to toe. The campaign was focused on evaluating and assessing muscle strength in the spine region, as well as the constitution of the feet. We analyzed the areas where action was needed and determined which aids would meet employees’ specific requirements.
430 people took part – it was a very successful campaign for us.” Wolfgang Giebeler has this to add: “We also determined that around 70 percent of the employees we examined, so a large majority, needed some kind of foot orthosis. When evaluating these figures, you obviously have to take into account the fact that supervisors specifically sent over employees who had health problems related to their musculoskeletal system. But that was always the intention.”

Customized processes

Building on the success of the Health & Safety Week, G&M Orthopädie-Technik developed a concept for a regular foot consultation at Opel. “We were already doing this for several companies, such as Rolls-Royce, Selgros and Messko, so we have extensive experience in this area,” explains Patric Konrad, head of internal sales and QM at G&M Orthopädie-Technik. “Each of these companies has different needs and its own individual workflows. We must take these into account when we are coordinating our processes for the foot consultation, so we can minimize the work that the companies themselves have to do and make sure our process runs smoothly in the background.” The burden on the businesses is also significantly relieved by the fact that the medical supply retailer provides comprehensive support in submitting requests for reimbursement of costs to the pension insurance scheme or another provider. For the majority of companies, G&M Orthopädie-Technik holds its foot consultation sessions on site as it does for Opel. This has the advantage that employees do not have to travel long distances for an examination.

Design-tested and good for the foot

When it comes to foot orthoses for safety shoes, Wolfgang Giebeler has very specific quality requirements: “Here we need a design-tested product that does more than simply fit well in the shoe – as is the case with the foot orthoses that certain manufacturers offer alongside their shoes. First and foremost , the orthosis must be good for the foot ,” explains the qualified orthotist and prosthetist. “In this case, we need foot orthosis blanks that are specially developed for safety shoes, such as those from Bauerfeind. We can work with these and adapt them precisely to the individual needs of each wearer based on our extensive studies of the locomotor apparatus.” Wolfgang Giebeler believes that a foot orthosis for safety shoes should, first and foremost , correct misalignments and provide support that relieves the strain on the foot. “Employees spend more time standing at the production line than they do walking around,” he explains. “In our foot consultation, we also determine whether the person requires a foot orthosis in their private life too – perhaps one with more dynamic properties – and provide appropriate recommendations. This holistic approach ultimately has a noticeable effect on the amount of work lost due to sick leave.”

Images: Michael Bause