ACOEM: Integrate wellness, safety programs to reduce injuries, illnesses
By housing health protection and health promotion activities in different silos, the effectiveness of each is limited, according to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Instead, companies should look toward systematically integrating the two functions for the best outcomes.
"Workplace health protection and promotion enhances the overall well being of a workforce by more closely integrating health promotion and health protection activities along a continuum," says a recent ACOEM guidance statement. "In this model, health promotion interventions contribute dynamically to improved personal safety in addition to enhancing personal health, while occupational safety interventions contribute dynamically to improved personal health in addition to enhancing personal safety."
Health protection usually includes activities such as basic safety training, the use of protective gear, work organization, and safety enhancing modifications. Health promotion typically encompasses health risk assessments, wellness initiatives, and immunizations.
"The safety side of the equation -- encompassing the activities that protect workers from occupational injury and illness and promote a better work environment -- is often housed in an organizational sector that is completely separated from health and wellness," the document says. "The safety committee in a mid-sized manufacturing company may have no formal connection with the coordinator of the company's wellness incentive program, housed in human resources, for example."
There's growing evidence that the two affect each other. The authors cite several studies.
"Good physical condition, absence of chronic illness, and good mental health are the factors that have been scientifically observed to be associated with low occupational injury rates," according to ACOEM. "It has been clearly shown, for example, that workers with certain adverse health risk factors are more likely to sustain injuries than those without such risks. Among those factors are obesity, sleep deprivation, having poorly controlled diabetes, being a smoker, abusing drugs and/or alcohol, or being impaired by certain prescription medications."
The authors note that identifying medical conditions that impede safety has been shown to be effective in reducing accidents among commercial drivers and pilots. They also cite studies showing an increased risk for an occupational injury connected to fatigue.
ACOEM suggests employers begin to consider ways to integrate their health promotion and protection programs. Examples of common elements in an integrated model include:
- Building a whole life approach to health and safety, which combines on the job and off the job dimensions in a unified vision that leads to a true culture of health.
- Stressing the importance and connection of overall health and wellness to safety outcomes.
- Recognizing the evolution in the nature of workplace hazards and including this awareness in the development of health strategies.
California recently introduced an initiative with a guideline for employers titled The Whole Worker: Guidelines for Integrating Occupational Health and Safety with Workplace Wellness Programs. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has implemented a paradigm of workforce health that embraces a more holistic, cross-silo view of a healthy workforce.
Employers can affect healthier lifestyles through such actions as encouraging employees to take the stairs, creating walking trails, offering healthy snack options in vending machines and in meetings, providing access to on-site exercise facilities, and encouraging stretch breaks.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
February 6, 2012
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