This article accompanies A Culture of Health.
The health and safety of all employees is undoubtedly a top priority for companies and HR personnel alike. Healthy employees are more engaged and productive and have a higher morale. They are less likely to be absent from work and have a lower risk of onsite injuries.
But are employees as concerned with their health and safety on the job as they are off of it?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But there are simple steps that employers can take to help motivate their workforce to stay healthy and safe at home and on the job, with the added benefit of boosting the impact of their employee benefits programs.
We Need to Talk
In any company, large or small, effective communication is critical to effective management. So why should managing the health and safety of employees be any different?
Talk to your employees. Emphasize the importance of linking personal health to workplace safety through newsletters, e-mails and other company communication. Hold regular meetings and explain to your employees that their health and wellness matters to the company.
It is key for employers to identify internal health-and-safety risks in your employees and implement effective programs to manage the risks that could weaken your workforce.
We recommend focusing on major safety areas and implementing multi-layered programs to encourage healthy lifestyles for employees both on and off the job. Substance abuse and physical-conditioning programs are two examples of personal-health issues that can impact workplace safety.
Employers need to adopt initiatives that educate the workforce on potential risks and motivate employees to take action.
Drug and Alcohol Programs
Substance abuse should be a concern for every employer, as the statistics speak for themselves.
Alcoholics and problem drinkers are absent from work 3.8 times to 8.3 times more often than social drinkers, and drug users are absent from work about five days per month.
When substance abusers do show up to work, they are 33 percent less productive than their non-using co-workers and are responsible for up to 50 percent of all workers' compensation claims, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance.
In addition, alcohol-related problems cost American businesses an estimated $134 billion in productivity losses annually. That's a pretty hefty cost.
Responsible companies should educate their workers on what alcohol and drug abuse could mean to their co-workers, customers and personal life, not just to their employer.
Substance-abusing employees are at a high risk for a work-related accident, being 3.6 times more likely to be injured at work than non-using co-workers. In addition, 4.6 percent of full-time workers ages 18-49 who reported current illicit drug use were fired in the past year, compared to 1.4 percent of their non-using co-workers.
The physical and financial risks for substance abusers are clear. But employers need to educate their employees on them and implement safety programs that will apply to them both on and off the job.
Stretch and Flex Programs
Soft-tissue injury is a major loss area for every type of industry, particularly construction, manufacturing and healthcare. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sprains and strains, most often involving the back, accounted for 43 percent of injuries and illnesses resulting in absence from work in 2003. That is a significant percentage that you can help avoid with proper physical condition programs.
A recent trend in physical-conditioning programs is on-site "Stretch and Flex" prior to beginning work and again at the end of the day.
The program encourages simple 10-minute stretching and is often combined with morning safety talks. Useful in prevention and treatment of soft tissue injuries, including sprains and strains, Stretch and Flex has a myriad of physical and mental effects that can benefit employees outside of their workday activities.
In addition to enhancing balance, coordination and circulation, stretching increases flexibility, which directly translates into reduced risk of injuries. Stretching also relaxes tense muscles, often accompanied by stress. A simple morning stretch can go a long way -- and consistently educating your employees and implementing these programs can too.
Caring about the health of your employees isn't always enough. You need to motivate them to care about their health too. So educate them. Explain the risks. Implement programs that reduce those risks.
And show them how those programs can be applicable at home. Once they realize that you sincerely care, they might start to care more too.
Mark Troxell is vice president of safety services at The Graham Co., one of the Mid-Atlantic region's largest insurance and employee benefits brokerages. He is responsible for directing the company's safety department and providing direct safety service to construction and mining clients. He can be reached at email@example.com or 215-701-5340.
Christy Scheuerman is an employee benefits consultant at The Graham Co. Her responsibilities include analyzing existing plans, developing solutions and alternatives, working with various service vendors and implementing corporate wellness programs. Christy is also involved in the development of the company's quality assurance initiatives and the refinement and copyrighting of employee benefits standard documents. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-701-5251.