As the cost of business continues to rise, employers can help controls costs by improving their employees' safety and health. Safety-and-wellness programs are a way to decrease health and workers' compensation costs while decreasing absenteeism and medical claim costs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workplace injuries accounted for approximately 95 percent of the 3.3 million injury and illness cases in 2009. Illnesses accounted for the remaining 5 percent. The injury and illness incidence rate was highest among mid-size private industry businesses (employers with 50 to 249 employees) and lowest among small businesses (less than 11 workers). Overall, the incident rate was 3.9 injuries or illnesses for every 100 workers.
The Department of Health and Human Services reports that for every 100 employees, 44 suffer from stress; 38 are overweight; 30 have high cholesterol; 31 use alcohol excessively; 21 smoke; and 25 have cardiovascular disease. Unless your workforce is different from national demographics, most employers can expect to experience the similar statistics.
There's no time like the present for employers to implement a safety-and-wellness program. For maximum impact on employee health, an employer should focus on increasing safety awareness through training and supporting healthy work climates through wellness programs.
Safety Programs: Start with Training
One place employers can begin to implement a safety program is by properly training new hires. The National Council on Compensation Insurance found that new employees are at a higher risk for workplace injuries. Then, if you add younger workers into the equation, employers are likely to see their injury rates climb even higher. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that employees 24 years old or younger, due to less training and lack of job skills, are twice as likely to suffer injuries than older co-workers.
Employers can begin a safety program by first examining all job descriptions. To eliminate potential risks to employees, job descriptions should be clear and exact on what each task entails. Doing so also helps the employer develop job-specific training for each new employee, regardless of age.
Proper training is also essential. It should take the employee through all physical motions of the tasks and movements that the job-specific work environment would require. This is far more important and effective than safety lectures or videos during orientation.
Workplace safety is a team effort. Senior management must be able to commit to implementing and following the safety practices, and must keep the employees involved in the process. Develop a clear, comprehensive and enforceable set of safety policies. A safety program that trains every employee, from janitorial staff to managers, is an essential management tool and smart business practice.
Wellness Programs: Start at the Office
The Department of Health & Human Services found that for every dollar invested by employers in workplace wellness programs, there were savings ranging from $1.49 to $4.91, which is more than a 3:1 return on investment. A comprehensive wellness program that is targeted to meet a company's specific needs will save money by reducing absenteeism, lowering healthcare costs and decreasing employee turnover while increasing productivity.
An employer's wellness program should be tailored to fit the company. Programs should target preventable risk factors such as poor diet, stress, lack of physical activity and smoking -- all of which can lead to chronic disease. But a wellness program is only as good as the company's compliance and promotion of the plan.
Larger companies can promote exercise by installing an onsite workout facility or by sponsoring/subsidizing health club memberships. Onsite weight loss programs are another option. If the worksite has a cafeteria, make sure that healthy choices are available and/or subsidize health foods in its cafeteria or vending machines. Sponsor a health fair at the workplace. Reimburse for preventative healthcare visits or registration costs for weight-management programs or gym memberships.
Smaller organizations can look at various inexpensive changes in the work environment. Put healthy snack options in vending machines. Coordinate a weekly healthy lunch club; promote walking during breaks. Include nutritional and exercise tips in company newsletters. Employers can also provide flextime to their employees to encourage working out before or during work hours. Organize an intramural sports team or encourage participation in community walks or runs.
Next Step for Employers
Promoting safety-and-wellness programs can substantially impact profitability by reducing health care and workers' compensation costs. Not only does it improve the safety and health of the employees, a solid program can also boost productivity and workplace morale. A decreased rate of absenteeism will also occur from a positive and healthy work environment. But the effort to improve worker safety and health must be continuous and a core value of the company.
Healthy and happy employees are a company's most valuable resource. It's like that old saying, "What goes around comes around." If an employer cares about their employee, chances are that employee will also care about themselves and their work product.
MARK NOONAN is a managing principal and the senior knowledge manager for workers' compensation for the Casualty Practice within Integro Insurance Brokers.
April 19, 2012
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