By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & InsuranceŽ
The American Heart Association says that walking 10,000 steps per day can help reduce the risk of stroke by 70 percent, and initial heart attack rate by 90 percent.
The American Diabetes Association says that walking 10,000 steps per day can help reduce Type II diabetes by 50 percent.
The National Institutes of Health says walking 10,000 steps per day can reduce cancer rates by 30 percent to 70 percent.
Indeed, it's hard to argue with anyone who walks as much as 10,000 steps a day on company sponsored treadmills modified to double as a workspace. There's a twist to the story, however.
Companies investing in the walk-at-work movement could expose themselves to employees filing cumulative trauma claims, said workers' compensation expert Paul Braun, managing direct with Aon Global Risk Consulting.
"The very simple issue around this type of exposure is that, if somebody gets hurt at work and the company has this kind of arrangement, the claim will be accepted; there's no way around it," Braun said.
Cumulative-type trauma injuries could be blamed on the treadmill desks by employees who are competitive or serious runners, Braun said.
Not that there's a lot of risk in treadmills modified as desks. The carpet operates at only 1 to 2 mph, according to one manufacturer, and the equipment isn't calibrated for heavy exercise. Walk at work involves walking or pedaling on exercise equipment attached to a desk with a computer screen and keyboard.
Still, a roster of A-list companies have bought walk-at-work treadmills. Machines can be located in individual cubicles or in makeshift conference centers, and A-list corporations have bought machines for their employees as a way to promote wellness and exercise.
One manufacturer, Tread Desk Inc. in Fishers, Ind., lists AOL, AMD, BestBuy, Bristol Myers-Squibb, Coca Cola Bottling, Consona, Eli Lilly, Kimball International, Microsoft, Minnesota Public Radio, Pixar and Toyota as clients.
Billy Dutton, CEO at Music.com in Los Angeles, ordered eight TrekDesks, in addition to the one he got for himself, to help control health premiums and create a healthy workforce. Working and walking at the same time won't impede productivity at the company.
"We multitask all the time," he said, in an interview last year with Human Resource ExecutiveŽ. "We'll drive our car with our lunch in one hand, cell phone in the other hand and our knee is on the steering wheel. And we do that all the time ... it's easier than what we do in the car, and we do that with ease."
Some employment attorneys like Shaffin Datoo, an employment lawyer in the New York office of Venable, told Human Resource ExecutiveŽ that some companies may be reluctant to institute a walk-at-work program because of the threat of injury to an employee, which could lead to workers' compensation claims, lawsuits and lost work time.
"I've not seen any insurance riders to cover that kind of risk," Braun said. "If this was really well-known to the underwriters they might be asking for potential problems. You don't necessarily see it in an underwriting submission."
Nor has he yet come across underwriters asking insureds for information pertaining to walk-at-work desks, he said. "If you saw a rash of these injuries coming out, then at the company's next renewal premiums would go up."
The history of cumulative trauma claims from carpal tunnel syndrome may hint at a precedent, Braun said.
Before the invention of the keyboard, there was no such thing as carpal tunnel syndrome. With heavy usage, employees could file for benefits under workers' comp years after, even if they hadn't necessarily suffered from wrist injuries at work.
December 13, 2011
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