A Cover Feature Article in Industry Safety & Hygiene News (July 2021)

It’s early morning as professional athletic trainer, Brandon Sipes, gathers his team together on the field at the new FC Cincinnati soccer stadium. He delivers his Wellness Talk, a regular lesson in proper nutrition, mental health, or some other best practice to keep his athletes in top shape, before running them through their daily stretch-and-flex exercises to prepare their muscles for the day’s tasks. As they begin their endeavors, Brandon works closely with each team member to monitor their movements and make ergonomic corrections where possible. While he’s fully capable of performing first aid in the event of an injury, his main concern is to avoid injuries altogether. While it may sound like Brandon’s team is composed of professional soccer players, it’s actually the “industrial athletes” of Turner Construction charged with the buildout of Cincinnati’s new soccer stadium.

Brandon Sipes

Brandon isn’t your normal, run-of-the-mill athletic trainer. He has all the necessary credentials to be a Board Certified Athletic Trainer, including an advanced degree in kinesiology and exercise science. But Brandon is employed by Harness Health Partners, a division of Bon Secours Mercy Health, to look after the workforces of companies in fields such as construction, manufacturing and utilities, whose employees complete physically demanding work on a daily basis. And while he’s held more traditional training positions for sports teams in the past, his current work hits home for him in a personal way. Brandon’s father and several other of his family members made their livings in residential construction. He has seen firsthand the toll that the work takes on the worker’s body. Just like professional athletes, the constant, repetitive actions required to complete the job can wear down the body’s muscles and joints over time, requiring medical care to heal. However, unlike professional athletes, many of these workers don’t seek out and receive the necessary medical attention to maintain their health.

Harness Health Partners has one of the region’s FIRST Industrial Athlete programs!

“We use the term ‘industrial athlete’ because they’re doing the same type of physically demanding work on a repetitive basis. And just like professional athletes, they need care too,” said Brandon. “A lot of my clients are working long days, 6 or 7 days a week, to complete their projects on time. And most of them who come into my office don’t have a doctor or a consistent care provider. They only seek out medical help after they have a problem. So it’s particularly rewarding for me to look after their wellbeing both on the site and off, and encourage regular check-ups and other good habits to keep them healthy and on the job.”

Besides the physical toll they take on the employees, workplace injuries also have a significant financial impact on businesses. According to the Liberty Mutual 2020 Workplace Safety Index, serious, nonfatal workplace injuries are costing U.S. businesses upwards of $1 billion each week. And three of the top 10 workplace injury causes are handling objects, being in awkward positions and repetitive motions involving microtasks; all of which can be directly addressed through the implementation of an industrial athlete program.

Brandon isn’t the first health professional hired to look after Turner Construction’s industrial athletes. Safety has long been a top priority for Turner, and for years the company has mandated that a medic be on-site full time at every major job site. These medics usually took the form of an off-duty Emergency Medical Technician looking to pick up a couple extra bucks on the side. In the event of an injury, they were always there and fully prepared to deliver first aid within minutes. But, being first responders, these personnel were reactive by nature; only appearing in the event of an emergency. Turner management realized the potential benefits of having a health and safety professional that was more embedded in the ranks, interacting with its employees more on a day-to-day basis to improve workplace safety and prevent injuries. After speaking with several employer health solutions companies, they learned about Harness Health Partners’ Industrial Athlete Program and were adamant about its implementation on Turner’s job sites.

“There is a night-and-day difference between the Harness Industrial Athlete Program compared to other similar suppliers that I have used in the past,” said David Bareswilt, Turner Construction Project Manager- FC Cincinnati West End Stadium. “The priority switched from injury treatment to prevention. At the FC Cincinnati stadium job site, Brandon routinely worked outside of his job description to bring potential safety issues to our attention. He actively engaged our employees to correct their ergonomic positioning, so they weren’t sore at the end of the day. And besides saving money from reduced workplace injuries, it was invaluable to show our workers a competent health representative that’s there for them, which was without a doubt our end goal.”

During the course of the FC Cincinnati stadium construction, Brandon handled approximately 60 work-related cases requiring approximately 160 visits. He also performed approximately 150 wellness visits to address workers’ health concerns.

Brandon is part of a team of athletic trainers that are uniquely qualified to meet the needs of various industries, including construction, manufacturing and corporate.