Welcome to part 2 of the DORN BBE blog series, where we’re taking an in-depth look at the three most important factors in maintaining a safe and healthy workplace: Body, Behavior, and Environment. This week, we’re tackling Behavior. Click here to read part 1 (Body). Check back later for part 3.
Regardless of industry, chronic pain and musculoskeletal injuries (also known as MSDs) form a vast portion of the costs, both financial and human, that companies and organizations face each year. With a price tag that has risen upwards of $635 billion annually including direct and indirect costs, chronic pain remains a costly problem for employers, many of who have yet to catch up with modern practices for workplace safety. When you factor in the human costs of absenteeism, presenteeism, and poor morale, employers are left carrying a massive responsibility that can affect the bottom line and all phases of the operation.
Fortunately, as medical and workplace technology has improved, so too has our ability to manage pain and prevent injuries. Most important in that evolution is our understanding of specifically how certain injuries are most likely to occur. With that knowledge in hand, we can isolate the problem areas and teach employees the right techniques to avoid getting hurt and dealing with the lasting effects of pain.
Better Health Starts with Education
Often, the first step in educating employees toward a healthier job experience is simply involving them in the company’s safety or wellness program. Before employees can really engage with their employer’s safety program, they have to understand it. That’s why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that managers, supervisors, and workers at all levels receive detailed training on the specifics of your safety program: injury reporting, policies for dealing with potential hazards, emergency procedures, and the main risk sources in the work environment are all essential components of this training stage.
From there, a training program should include specific instruction for employees on the best practices for accomplishing their job tasks without risk of injury. Because all workers are different and perform their jobs in unique ways, a successful workplace safety program must include specific analysis and correction of worker behavior. The most common motions in the workplace are the ones that lead to the most common and costly injuries, especially musculoskeletal disorders: pushing, pulling, stretching, and sitting. By complementing formal instruction with in-person engagement, employers can identify risks and make adjustments before those risks snowball into costly injuries.
Promote Safe Behavior Through On-Site Engagement
Once formal training and education have laid a solid foundation for safe work practices among your employees, it’s up to employers to ensure that work doesn’t go to waste. The best way to maximize the success of a safety program is through continued interaction with employees, monitoring and recording how they execute their job functions and responding with direct feedback. By implementing an on-site monitoring and coaching program, you can demonstrate to employees your commitment to their safety and wellness while you isolate problematic behaviors and provide real-time corrections.
An on-site Specialist can serve as a liaison between employees and management, helping workers to feel that their health matters to the organization. Having a familiar face on the job floor makes workers feel comfortable making changes to their behavior, which ultimately results in fewer injuries. From including Specialists in safety meetings to actually having eyes and ears in the workplace to identify risk factors, there’s no substitute for the in-person benefits of on-site behavior coaching. This strategy comes with the added benefit of observation, which helps employers gather critical data that will inform their safety practices in the future.
Using New Technology to Boost Workplace Safety
Now more than ever before, companies have the opportunity to utilize new technology to better understand the safety hazards that occur in virtually every workplace. First among these technologies are new data collection solutions. Without keen observation of the workplace, injuries and instances of chronic pain can seem random. Data collection helps employers to identify patterns in cases of injury or pain and implement changes to break those patterns, reducing costs and improving overall worker health. A real-world example appeared recently at Honeywell, a New Jersey-based Fortune 100 company that was among the first in the nation to implement diagnostic and data analytics for their work floors. Their observational strategies helped Honeywell to identify hazards and remove them before injuries could occur, enabling them to spend more time on proactive health measures and less time filing and managing claims.
Wearables and artificial intelligence have also carved out a significant role in workplace safety. Many major companies are now asking their employees to wear wristbands or other monitoring devices that collect data about worker status and health, transmitting the information to management to reveal the hidden risk factors that can endanger workers. These devices are also useful for reporting injuries in real-time to minimize damage and costs. Likewise, companies like Microsoft have developed AI-enabled observation platforms (such as their Computer Vision API), which include cameras both around the workplace and attached to the workers themselves. These solutions feature artificial intelligence that can proactively alert management to hazards, monitor high-traffic areas, and even help correct improper work technique on the spot.
Empower Workers to Champion Their Health
Most important in any safety or wellness strategy is that employees feel in charge of their own health. Companies can achieve this level of worker confidence through education and training, but by adding innovative solutions like on-site coaching, it’s even easier to maintain a positive culture of wellness within the workplace. Employee behavior can be difficult to correct, especially for long-tenured employees, but direct engagement is always the best way to effect change. The world’s business leaders are already investing heavily in solutions that maximize their understanding of how workers do their jobs, empowering both management and their employees to play an active role in mitigating risk. It’s time to equip yourself with knowledge and encourage workers to understand how their jobs affect their health.