This article is the first of a three-part series on the DORN Companies blog that will address the foundation and methodology of our BBE model of employee health and safety (Body, Behavior, Environment). This week, we will tackle the Body. Stay tuned to learn how a holistic approach to worker health can help you improve overall wellness and productivity in the workplace while reducing injuries and claims from common musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Across the American economic landscape, employers are facing a problem that places a significant drain on their productivity, their workforce, and their bottom line. Chronic pain represents one of the costliest issues for organizations of all types – with a $635 billion price tag from direct and indirect costs, it’s a problem that can destabilize budgets and place a major strain on a company’s ability to succeed. And that’s without considering the very real human cost – chronic pain lowers employee morale, disrupts productivity, introduces absenteeism and presenteeism, and generally contributes to the overall decline of the health of the individual worker. Noted pain psychologist Dr. Beth Darnal from Stanford’s Pain Medicine Department contends that chronic pain afflicts at least 1 in every 3 people, and those who suffer from it are likely to focus on their pain in all stages of their lives, including work. Such a fixation detracts from a worker’s quality of life and diminishes their capacity to contribute at work.
Solving the problem can’t just be a matter of treating pain after it appears in the workplace. Reactive strategies fail to mitigate the risks that actually lead to instances of chronic pain among workers, and they only add extra costs in worker’s compensation claims and post-instance treatment. Whether chronic pain stems from an acute one-time injury or a pattern of overexertion, it’s a pervasive issue that demands proactive strategies, real-time engagement with employees on the job, and a holistic focus that tackles all parts of the worker’s experience.
Better Health Through Healthier Bodies
It’s important to remember that pain is a multifaceted issue, and fighting it requires a diverse and holistic strategy. Increasingly, the employer market has begun to seek a three-part model for employee health that addresses the worker’s body, their behavior, and the workplace environment. Such an approach must begin at the micro level, working individually with employees to determine their specific needs and to understand the unique challenges they face on a daily basis. This information can form a foundation for how physical health is impacted on the job floor, leading in many instances to injury or chronic pain.
Let’s start with what we know about the most common sources of pain and worker’s compensation claims. According to the American College of Pain Medicine, at least 100 million American workers suffer from chronic pain, and at least 40% of those individuals report that their ongoing pain interferes with their ability to perform their job at a high level. Much of that derives from the most common of workplace injuries: musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These afflictions are diverse in effect and severity, ranging from tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome to herniated discs and sprained ligaments, all of which carry significant treatment costs and prolonged periods of recovery. For example, claims related to soft tissue disorders or injuries can reach more than $20,000 in direct costs alone, with indirect costs pushing that number over $60,000.
Proactive Engagement Leads to Better Health Outcomes
Optimally, employers should employ strategies that treat the threat of chronic pain proactively. The costs associated with ongoing pain, both direct and indirect, increase as the condition worsens and recovery times grow longer. It’s essential, then, to start working ahead of the risks by identifying and correcting the factors that lead to injury.
The first step is detailed observation, which creates a roadmap toward a solution for common health problems among workers. Onsite coaching programs can collect information about the people working on the job floor and help highlight risk areas. Poor mechanics can lead to overexertion injuries, which are costly—according to the 2017 Liberty Mutual Insurance Workplace Safety Index, injuries from overexertion accounted for some $13.8 billion in costs to employers. Catching the causes early keeps your employees pain-free and your bottom line healthy.
When armed with a data-driven understanding of your workers and their physical traits, onsite therapy becomes an ideal strategy for combating these issues. Employers should look to implement treatment solutions that deliver support for workers dealing with pain while also addressing the most common bodily risk factors for injuries, such as fatigue, excessive force applied to job tasks, and poor fitness. Some organizations have had success with rigorous workplace stretching programs, in which specialists identify the unique tasks and challenges of each department within an organization and work to relieve the physical stressors that affect those individuals. By tackling biomechanics and making the body more limber, you can also fight problems like bad posture and poor body mechanics.
However, the problem of chronic pain cannot be solved by in-the-moment action alone. Organizations should also look to education initiatives to help employees understand their unique needs and how their health and body mechanics correspond to injuries and ongoing pain. For instance, sitting has become widely recognized as a major contributor to chronic health issues. Workers who sit for prolonged periods have poorer circulation, lower metabolism, spinal issues, and even increased risk of common cancers such as breast and colon cancer.
By teaching employees easy techniques for staying fresh at their desks or workstations, you can keep your workforce healthy and alleviate the risk factors for chronic pain before they evolve into absences, lost productivity, and compensation claims that can cost you tens of thousands of dollars per case.
Check back soon for the next installment in our BBE Model series: addressing worker health by improving worker behavior.