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    Jim Van Ness   

Preferred worker program success stories

The following are stories of injured workers and their employers who received assistance from the Preferred Worker Program. Many Preferred Workers become walking advertisements for the program.

Bill, welder/grinder

Bob, golf course mechanic

Bruce, injured septic tank servicer

Carl, construction worker

Cory, web press printing employee

Dan, forklift driver

Don, timber industry employee

Fran, billing clerk

Gerald, chopsaw operator

James, core feeder

Jeff, irrigation manager

Lindy, highway maintenance

Pete, back injury

Richard, school district janitor

Steve, construction laborer

Sheldon, log truck driver

Tina, traffic signal technician

Bill is a good example. While working as a welder/grinder, Bill developed carpal tunnel. His employer was unwilling to modify the worksite so Bill could continue doing his job, and they had no other work for him to do. The insurer handling Bill’s claim paid for him to attend heavy equipment operator training. Unfortunately, Bill wasn’t able to find an equipment operator job. He didn’t know how he was going to support his family. A friend told him about a job opening as a mechanic for a tractor company.

Bill offered the employer premium exemption and wage subsidy and was hired. After several months of work it became obvious that, although surgery had improved Bill’s condition, mechanic work was beyond his physical capacities. He asked the Preferred Worker Program for help modifying his worksite.

Re-employment consultant Craig Sorseth worked with Bill and his employer, John, to develop a worksite modification. The push/pull and vibration associated with the use of hand tools was a big concern, as was the amount of lifting more than 20 pounds. The program paid for two oil-pulse, torque-control impact wrenches. These tools automatically shut off at a preset torque, reducing the amount of force transferred to the user’s hands. The oil-pulse feature greatly decreases vibration (see May/June issue for a general discussion of anti-vibration tools). An overhead crane system now allows Bill to lift and carry parts and equipment weighing more than 20 pounds.

Bill is a big fan of the Preferred Worker Program and encourages others to take advantage of its benefits. An employer he knows has an employee with carpal tunnel. Bill encouraged the employer to use the program to bring the employee back to work. Thanks to Bill, the employee is now back on the job with the help of the Preferred Worker Program. To Top

Bob suffered a low back injury that resulted in permanent restrictions while working as a golf course mechanic. He couldn’t return to his job-at-injury without assistance.

He contacted the Preferred Worker Program for help. His reemployment consultant provided an on-site evaluation to discuss work duties and injury-caused challenges with Bob and his supervisor. The employer had already made some job-duty changes to eliminate some field tasks. Because the worker was permanently restricted to occasional bending, occasional twisting, lifting or carrying a maximum 50 pounds, and no kneeling or squatting combined with torso bending, he needed accommodation for several of his shop tasks.

Bob was unable to lift or carry 80-120-pound mower reels, work under equipment while lying on the floor, or work over equipment with a sustained torso forward bend.

A golf equipment lift was approved, along with an ergonomic creeper. The combination allowed Bob to work without lifting or contorting his torso. A mobile lift was also approved for handling mower reels and other items that exceeded Bob’s lifting capacity. The lift raised heavy items from floor level to workbench height. Changing golf-cart tires was another challenging task. The old way required Bob to bend forward to change tires at floor level. A tire-changer unit now allows the worker to do the task with-out bending his torso forward.

Bob is thrilled to continue working in his chosen profession, and the employer is delighted to keep its valued mechanic. Without worksite modification, Bob would have had to pursue retraining and a new career. Bob is able to work painlessly with the new equipment. To Top

Bruce had worked for the same company for 10 years as a septic tank servicer. Because of a low back injury, he couldn’t lift more than 35 pounds and had some bending restrictions. His employer re-employed him as an assistant supervisor. But he still occasionally needed to lift beyond his limits to remove septic tank lids. His employer built a special lifting tool to remove the lids. But neither of the employer’s two trucks could be used to transport the “lifter.” The program purchased a light pickup truck and lift gate so Bruce could move the tool from job site to job site.

Bruce also did some fabricating and light welding. The employer modified the heights of several of Bruce’s welding workstations to eliminate bending. The program paid for two welding courses and reimbursed half of Bruce’s wages for the first six months in his new job.

By staying with his employer-at-injury, Bruce maintained his company benefits, got a promotion, and didn’t have to go through the hassle of looking for a new job. We received a letter from his employer that said, “I have never been involved with the Preferred Worker Program before, but would like to let you know I’m impressed. It’s a great program with good incentives to keep your employees working.” To Top

Carl didn’t know what he was going to do with his life. He couldn’t do construction work again, not with a herniated disc in his lower back. He couldn’t lift more than 50 pounds and could only occasionally bend, stoop, and twist. He hoped retraining would help him with a new career. Unfortunately, when he finished training, he couldn’t find a job in his new field. “I was getting desperate. I just didn’t know what to do,” says Carl.

Carl thought about the things he liked to do. “I’m a real hands-on kind of guy and I have good mechanical abilities.” He visited his friend Marty who owned a small appliance repair company with a partner. They wanted to expand their business, but were worried about the costs of hiring that first employee. Marty says, “When Carl came and talked to me about the Preferred Worker Program, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. I worried about hiring Carl because of his bad back. And I was afraid about making payroll. But the wage subsidy and premium exemption looked good. Carl had a good attitude, mechanical abilities, and seemed to be a quick study. So I decided to give it a try.”

The program worked for both Carl and Marty. Marty got the special Preferred Worker workers’ compensation insurance policy (for employers who are hiring a Preferred Worker as their first employee). The Preferred Worker Program paid for the tools Carl needed to do his new job and helped modify the worksite so he could repair appliances in spite of his limitations. A lift table allows him to work on appliances without bending and stooping. A stair climber lets Carl move appliances weighing more than 50 pounds up and down stairs. A seat creeper and a tilt dolly help him work under appliances without bending. Two carts allow Carl to move parts and his tool box around the shop. He now loads appliances into a truck with a Tommy lift. An ergonomic chair and anti-fatigue mats let him work in comfort at the service counter.

Carl says, “All the tools and special equipment are wonderful. But the best thing about the Preferred Worker Program is that it helped me be useful and productive again. It feels so good to have something to do and someplace to be every day. And now I have a new trade I can use the rest of my life. If something ever happens to this job, I can take my skills and my tools to a new employer. And I can even have another worksite modification, wage subsidy, and more tools if I need them. I really appreciate the program helping me get back to work.”

It doesn’t sound like Carl will be heading out with his tools any time soon. “Carl has turned out to be a real valuable employee,” Marty says. “He now has several state licenses and certifications. By taking him on we’ve been able to expand our business. Carl has filled in the voids. He has a job here for as long as I do.”  To Top

Cory successfully used the Preferred Worker Program twice. He injured his back in 1992 while working at a web press printing company. He hurt himself lifting boxes of chemicals and could not return to the same kind of work. Cory first talked to Re-employment Specialist Tim Kessel in 1996, after he was found eligible for the Preferred Worker Program. With Tim’s help, he secured a job on the range crew of a Roseburg golf course. His employer used premium exemption and wage subsidy, and Cory got needed clothing and tools.

Cory’s Preferred Worker eligibility was about to expire when he called Tim again. He was looking for an opportunity to move to the Salem area and wanted a full-time job with a golf course. An avid golfer himself, Tim gave Cory several potential employers’ names. One of those contacts panned out — and, with Preferred Worker incentives to offer, Cory found a great position in grounds maintenance. He’s been working steadily since April 1999 and is enjoying an outdoor job he can physically handle. Brian, his employer, is equally enthusiastic, praising the program for its ease of use. Tim recently visited the golf course to help the employer complete his final wage subsidy reimbursement request. While we can’t always provide such personalized service, Tim certainly enjoyed the opportunity to help the employer get a $4,500 wage reimbursement check.  To Top

Dan a 51-year-old worker, injured his left ankle while working as a forklift driver for a Portland firm that sells new and restored manufacturing machinery for the wood products industry. Before his injury, Dan had worked for this company for more than 16 years. His employer recognized he was a valued employee. She offered Dan a modified job that would allow him to continue to use his knowledge and skills for the company.

After his claim was closed, Dan had permanent restrictions from standing and walking more than four hours a day, climbing stairs, and walking on slopes or uneven ground.

His employer offered Dan a modified job breaking down old air and hydraulic components used in plywood manufacturing systems, replacing defective and worn parts, and testing reassembled equipment.

The Preferred Worker Program, Dan and his employer identified the following modifications to his workstation to accommodate Dan’s permanent restrictions: a parts washer with a raised basin that is accessible from a seated position, an adjustable-height work-table with a reinforced steel surface; and an electric-powered cart to transport the worker and components to various locations within the employer’s large assembly and storage buildings.

These purchases — along with a sit/stand stool the employer furnished while Dan was in temporary light duty — have allowed Dan to continue working for his employer.

Dan told the re-employment consultant that this modified job has made him feel whole and worthwhile again.

These worksite modifications cost $9,200. To Top

Don was 67. All his working life had been spent in the timber industry. He wasn’t ready to retire and planned to keep working in the woods for years to come. That plan changed when he was struck by a falling snag. His wrist and ankle were badly damaged.

Don couldn’t perform heavy work on steep ground. He couldn’t stand or walk more than six hours a day. He couldn’t lift more than 25 pounds. Don considered training for a new career, but he didn’t like the idea of being cooped up inside an office.

Don had a friend with his own reforestation business. Ramon had worked for Don 25 years before. Ramon respected Don and wanted “to give him a break like he gave me so many years ago.” Ramon offered him a supervisor job. Don was ready and eager to get back to work in the woods. Ramon was flexible about how Don did many of his duties. He could sit for brief periods during the day as long as he could see the work crew. Crew members would lift/carry heavy items, when possible.

But sometimes Don had to carry heavy equipment and bags of tree seedlings to the crew. He had a van, but the van couldn’t always get into the areas where the crew was working. Don also had to scout work areas. This was usually done on foot, which required walking on steep ground. These duties were beyond his limitations.

The Preferred Worker Program approved the purchase of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and a trailer to transport it. Now Don is able to get the materials to the crews and to do his scouting duties without exceeding his limitations. He hopes to continue his job with Ramon until he’s ready to retire.  To Top

Recently one of our staff was talking with Fran, who works for a vendor in California with whom we do business. Fran surprised him by saying she’d been a Preferred worker, and the program had changed her life. A left shoulder injury made it impossible for her to keep working as a billing clerk for a firm in Medford. She tried to find another type of work, but jobs were scarce in southern Oregon. She had friends in California who agreed to hire her. The Preferred Worker Program paid for her move, first and last months’ rent, and a printer for her computer. Within a month, she found another job as a credit collection specialist, the job she still holds six years later. Although her current long-term job isn’t the one she got using Preferred Worker benefits, she still credits the program. Fran says,“It’s because of you guys that I was able to get here, where jobs were more plentiful. I didn’t have the money to make the move. Without the Preferred Worker Program, I know I wouldn’t have this wonderful, well-paying job today.”  To Top

Gerald lost four fingers while working as a chopsaw operator in a lumber mill. His employer brought him back to work as a purchasing assistant/inventory clerk, using the wage subsidy benefit. Gerald recently brought us up to date. After working in purchasing, he was promoted to quality control manager, then to safety manager. Recently he became the company’s human resource manager. Gerald says, “Ironically, I now head up the Preferred Worker Program at the same place that brought me in as a Preferred Worker. I have been able to hire some Preferred Workers and even one to fill my old job in the purchasing department. Programs like this really give some people opportunities they might not normally get.”  To Top

James hurt his back while employed as a core feeder in a plywood mill. In 1992 he went to work for a plywood testing company. His employer used the premium exemption benefit. James has restrictions on the amount of weight he can lift and how he can lift it. He’s to avoid frequent bending, twisting, and carrying; and he must change positions as needed. James’ job requires him to stack plywood on the floor or above chest level and lift heavy wood onto a tester. The program supplied a scissor-lift table and a crane with electric hoist to eliminate this lifting. The installation of remote digital readouts eliminated bending to read gauges at floor level. When testing, James had to extend his arms to catch a heavy weight. The program paid for the design and construction of a “impact load catcher.” Anti-fatigue mats and a stool allow him to sit and stand at will. James is still with the testing company, and his responsibilities have increased. According to his supervisor, he’s a valued and respected employee who’s now responsible for the testing programs in two plywood mills. To Top

In 1986, while Jeff worked as an irrigation manager for a bulb farm, a three-wheel ATV rolled over and pinned his leg. He had knee surgery and returned to farm and ranch work. In 1992, he had an aggravation and a second surgery. After the second surgery, he could only lift up to 20 pounds; sit up to 20 minutes at a time; stand up to 15 minutes at a time; and he couldn’t squat, kneel, crawl, or climb ladders. It seemed unlikely he would be able to continue to do farm and ranch work.

Jeff finished a training program, but wasn’t able to find a job using his new skills. In 1996, he got a farm mechanic job, but his knee kept him from doing many of the required duties. He called the Preferred Worker Program to see if there was some way to modify his job.

Jeff had to do mechanic work in both the field and the shop. He couldn’t go into muddy fields because of his bad knee. An ATV (four-wheel this time) now allows Jeff to get wherever he needs to go. A seven-foot tall rolling stair with a wide platform on top lets Jeff make repairs on large tractors and combines. A used forklift with a drum dolly attachment enables him to lift and move heavy machine parts, 50-gallon drums, spray tanks, and fertilizer hoppers. Anti-fatigue mats allow Jeff to stand with greater comfort when working in the shop. And a rolling stool eliminated squatting and kneeling when working on machinery.

Jeff’s modification has been in place for nine months. He’s been working steadily through the busy planting, cultivating, and harvesting months. He’s happy to be back in agriculture, doing what he loves.  To Top

Lindy, a 36-year-old woman, suffered right arm and wrist injuries secondary to repetitive trauma, working as a highway maintenance specialist. She was released to her job-at-injury with permanent restriction to occasionally lifting up to 10 pounds with her right arm and significant limitation of repetitive use of her right wrist. Although her left hand is dominant, many tasks required the use of both hands. Without substantial modification, she could not return to her regular work.

Lindy’s regular job required her to do a variety of highway maintenance duties, including removing and replacing posts, installing truck tire chains, operating a roller, changing snow plow bits, driving and operating a truck with sander and plow controls (using her right hand), removing storm catch-basin grates and cleaning out basins, removing “road kill”, placing and retrieving safety cones, paving, pothole patching, etc.

With Lindy’s permanent restrictions, she couldn’t operate the sander/ plow due to the location of the controls; she was unable to change the plow bits; she couldn’t pry and lift catch-basin grates; she was unable to remove heavy objects to clear the road; and she couldn’t manually pound or pull roadside posts.

The Preferred Worker Program approved funding for the following modifications to accommodate Lindy’s permanent restrictions: a truck mounted lift crane, a hydraulic power unit, a hydraulic roadside post driver and puller, automatic tire chains for the truck used for sanding and plowing, a hydraulic tailgate lift, a lift chain with J-hooks used with the lift crane to remove the catch-basin grates, an adjustable seat for the roller allowing the worker to drive with her left hand, a transmission jack modified by the employer with fabricated com-ponents that customized the unit to serve as a plow bit holder/mover, and employer modified sander/plow/ dump box control levers. The employer also eliminated duties that could not be modified mechanically such as handling the traffic safety cones. The worksite modification cost $24,194.

Lindy told the reemployment consultant she was particularly pleased with the equipment to perform road-side post installation and removal.

“I’m not wiped out at end of the day anymore,” she said.

She also said that all the modifications allow her to continue to do the work that she loves to do. The employer was pleased to be able to keep a valued employee on the job.

Since the modifications are considered “substantial,” the worker became an eligible Preferred Worker and was able to offer benefits of premium exemption and wage subsidy to her employer. To Top

Pete had his first back injury in 1984. After his first surgery, he got a job with a State of Oregon agency, but was laid off during a time of cutbacks. He went to work driving a delivery truck and had a second back injury and another surgery. After some clerical training, he got a part-time job and began his search for another job with the state. In 1993, after dozens of interviews with state agencies, he got a file clerk job with WCD. The department used his wage subsidy and premium exemption benefits, and the program paid for an ergonomic chair so he can sit with comfort. Pete’s still with us and doing a great job as team leader of our file crew.  To Top

Re-employment consultant Joe Leczel describes Richard as a 6’ 6”, 340 pound “gentle giant.” Richard’s injury happened while he was employed as a school district janitor in charge of floor care. All that waxing and polishing took a toll on Richard’s neck and arms. After two neck surgeries, he was limited to 30 pounds lifting with no overhead use of his arms. He couldn’t use his arms repetitively for moderately heavy work.

Richard’s insurer paid for a three-month training program at a wastewater treatment plant. He was then hired at a different plant. Richard had to lift heavy equipment in and out of a van so he could travel among the district’s nine pumping stations. The program purchased a 1000 pound lift tailgate so Richard could get the equipment on and off the van without lifting. Richard would spend several hours at a time hanging over manholes using a water wand to clean out the gunk. The purchase of a high-pressure washer with a telescopic wand eliminated this strain on Richard’s arms and neck. When repairing pumps, Richard had to apply a lot of torque to remove and replace bolts. Assorted air tools and a compressor solved that problem. Joe Leczel assigned the ownership of the air tools to Richard so he could take them with him if he ever went on to another job.

Richard loves his job. And apparently his employer is equally happy with Richard. Richard was originally hired for a 25-hour a week maintenance 1 position. When the full-time maintenance 2 position came open, Richard was one of thirteen applicants. The district water board hired him because it was so impressed with his attitude, trustworthiness, and willingness to work hard. The water district and the Preferred Worker Program are paying for the classes Richard needs to take in preparation for a test he must pass in June to become a certified waste water maintenance 2 worker. Richard started work at $8.65 an hour (25 hours a week), received a raise to $10 an hour full time when he was promoted, and will earn $12 an hour when he passes his test. Richard, the gentle giant, is definitely a Preferred Worker success story.  To Top

Steve, a former construction laborer, got a job as a receiving clerk for a computer supply company in January 1994. His employer received a wage subsidy and premium exemption. Steve used his obtained employment purchase benefit to buy work clothes and to pa y for a beginning computer class. With Steve’s back injury, unloading boxes weighing 60 pounds from trucks was a problem. The program paid for an electric forklift so Steve could handle the unloading. Today Steve’s in charge of the warehouse. He loves working for the company because it has such a nice “family atmosphere.” It’s so much a family that when Steve had a bill for expensive dental work that wasn’t covered by insurance, the company paid it for him. To Top

Tina, a 30-year-old traffic signal technician for a Medford employer, suffered an over-use injury to her right arm and elbow that required surgery. She was released to sedentary/ light work without repetitive upper-extremity tasks for her right side, sustained overhead reaching and shoulder-level work, driving a vehicle with a standard transmission, keyboarding for more than a few minutes a day, or repetitive or forceful gripping, pulling, pushing, or torquing.

Tina accepted a new position with the employer-at-injury as a “locator traffic signal technician.” She offered her employer premium exemption and wage subsidy.

Tina’s job duties required her to travel to intersections throughout the city, stopping at 20-40 “locates” in a day. Once at the location, she found and marked storm lines, sanitary sewer lines, water lines, traffic signal loops in the pavement, and power lines. She then removed manhole covers and made minor repairs to traffic signals. She documented all locates while in the field and, at the end of her shift, transferred the information to the employer’s computer. Many of these activities exceeded her restrictions on repetitive reaching, lifting, and pulling. Driving a standard transmission vehicle and keyboarding also exceeded her injury-caused limitations.

The Preferred Worker Program, Tina, her counselor, and her employer made the following modifications to her worksite to accommodate her permanent restrictions: The employer provided her a vehicle with an automatic transmission. A pull-out cargo drawer and truck canopy were mounted in the bed of the pickup, thereby eliminating all reaching and lifting above shoulder level. Ergonomically designed hand tools and cordless power tools were provided, along with a lightweight cart with large wheels to transport tools to repair sites. Tina’s 25-pound locator wand was replaced with one that weighed only eight pounds. An electric winch with a hook designed to remove manhole covers was mounted to the front bumper of the pickup. A laptop computer with voice-activated software eliminated all handwriting and extended keyboarding. The worksite modifications cost $16,965.

Tina told the re-employment consultant that the worksite modification has allowed her to keep the job she loves and work within her physical limitations. Her employer is happy, too. To Top

Sheldon, 68, injured his lower back while working as a log-truck driver. His injury left him with permanent work restrictions that prevented his return to regular work.

Sheldon was restricted to light work with a maximum lift of 20 pounds. He could sit two hours at a time for a total of four hours in a day and occasionally could squat, climb, and twist. His doctor would not release him for log-truck driving because that job required tossing and tightening load binders, climbing on loads, and walking on uneven ground.

The worker, a valued employee, was offered — and accepted — a new position with the employer-at-injury as a dump-truck driver. This new job, although in need of some modification, no longer required Sheldon to walk on uneven ground, or climb onto and tie down loads.

The Preferred Worker Program, along with Sheldon and his employer, identified the following worksite modifications as necessary to accommodate Sheldon’s permanent restrictions.

The Preferred Worker Program assisted in the purchase of a 28-foot-long, 102-inch-wide end-dump trailer. the employer agreed to equip the truck assigned to Sheldon with a hydraulic system to operate the trailer, installed an electric tarping system for the trailer, and provided an air-ride lumbar-support seat. After the worksite modifications were in place, Sheldon successfully returned to work as a dump-truck driver. His employer also received a wage subsidy and other reemployment assistance incentives, including premium exemption and claims-cost reimbursement.

Sheldon and his wife expressed their gratitude in a letter addressed to the Preferred Worker Program: “After Sheldon’s injury, we didn’t know how he could make a living. Everything seemed to be piling up, with no end to our problems. Then we were told to get in touch with the Preferred Worker Program. Our whole lives have been turned around because of that meeting. I didn’t have a clue that Oregon could make available a way to keep working and keep our dignity.”                               To Top


If you have questions about this webpage, please contact Jim Van Ness, 503-947-7018.