Every year across the country, hundreds of thousands of workers deal with chronic and acute pain, often as a result of unsafe or outdated workplace conditions or job tasks that have not been modified to accommodate the needs of the employee. The human cost of this fact is significant, as is the financial burden laid upon employers when their workers are no longer healthy and happy. Chronic and acute pain lead to staggering costs for employers, whether from administrative costs, worker’s compensation, costly medical visits and treatment, or maintenance to property that has contributed to injuries.
The annual cost of pain in the workplace in the United States has reached $635 billion.
Though this issue was not always in the forefront of the industry leaders, recent research has provided a wealth of data that we can now use to step out ahead of the problem and start helping employees prevent pain before it occurs. Though such a change requires real commitment on the part of the employer, when the bill comes, it’s clear that the human and financial returns are more than worth the initial investment. Here’s how the data demonstrates the importance of pain in the workplace and how organizations can effectively manage their workforce to ensure health, happiness, and productivity among their workers.
Scoping Out the Pain Management Problem
The cost of pain in the workplace doesn’t stop with medical treatment or worker’s compensation claims. In fact, the problem has deeper consequences that can affect the success of a business or organization.
To start, the total estimated annual cost of pain in the workplace in the United States has reached $635 billion, including lost workdays and faltering productivity. That figure is a direct result of some 116 million American workers dealing with pain, whether from injury, illness, or other factors. With all causes considered, 1 of every 2 American workers has experienced a chronic injury that has affected them on the job. These incidents, along with pain from other sources, can affect workers in a variety of ways, depending on where they fall on the pain continuum. As previously outlined by company founder Dell Dorn in 2016, the pain spectrum is split into six levels:
• No Pain
• Mild Discomfort
• Moderate Soreness
• Constant Aching & Stiffness
• Constant Nagging Pain
• Severe Chronic Pain
Each level on the pain spectrum carries its own inherent costs and options for treatment. However, the true benefit of understanding pain in the workplace lies in how this knowledge empowers companies and organizations to take proactive steps toward mitigating pain in the workplace and preventing it wherever possible.
Pain Prevention Strategies through Total Worker Health™
Though pain management will always require some level of crisis and claim management, there are several approaches that can help prevent pain among workers and reduce the costs that surround it. Many of these strategies focus on prevention and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to a March 2016 study by the United States Bone and Joint Initiative, MSDs account for some $213 billion in total annual expenditures, including claims, treatment, administrative, and other indirect costs.
Fortunately, companies enacting a Total Worker Health™ approach can consider themselves ready to address the problems that accompany both the prevalence of MSDs in the workforce and the likely increase in claims as the workforce ages. One model is the onsite clinic strategy, which serves as a one-stop resource and treatment center for workers. Onsite clinics have expanded in popularity and were, in 2014, available at 29% of companies with 5,000 employees or more. These facilities, provided either onsite or made immediately available to workers nearby, contribute to a culture of workplace safety and wellness first by providing preventative care services, which include annual checkups, seasonal flu shots, and screenings plus treatment for illnesses and minor injuries.
Proper body mechanics should be a cornerstone of any safety training program.
In order to deliver a multipronged strategy toward a healthy and pain-free workplace, employers should also consider solutions that incorporate education and training as core elements. Proper body mechanics should be a cornerstone of any safety training program, and workers should be instructed in safe and helpful stretching exercises that can help prevent chronic pain and acute injury.
Results of Onsite Pain Management Solutions
The proactive, preventative strategy of onsite facilities yields clear benefits. The most evident is the reduction in overall healthcare costs for employers, bolstered by a culture that promotes wellness and safety among workers. The savings begin with basic operational costs – a visit to an onsite clinic is cheaper than one to an offsite location, and employees are able to seek immediate and appropriate treatment for pain or injury instead of treading through the inevitable administrative minefield that is offsite health care.
From there, the benefits of onsite treatment are borne out by workers themselves. Faster and better care results in fewer missed work days and a general reduction in absenteeism across the workforce. Likewise, onsite options mitigate chronic pain, helping decrease presenteeism – lost productivity from employees who aren’t engaged in their work – which studies estimate accounts for up to 60% of the total costs from worker illness and injury. Taken together, this Total Worker Health™ approach generates a significant return on investment: A 2010 study by Baicker, Cutler, and Song found companies that implemented onsite health care programs enjoyed a $3.27 saved on every dollar spent. Studies have also found that employers who implement company wellness programs are more likely to keep their talent inside the organization, with 62% of surveyed workers reporting that they feel very loyal to their company.
Proactive Health Care Strategies During the Opioid Crisis
While worker safety and wellness now commonly represent a major priority for employers, the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States has compounded the need for preventative care and injury-free work environments. Though many of the deaths associated with opioids result from overdoses of illegal drugs like heroin, study now indicates that around 80% of new heroin users began taking opioids with a valid prescription for painkillers.
The unfortunate fact is that the workplace can often be a catalyst, or even the cause, of opioid addiction. Painkillers are typically prescribed after a physical trauma like an acute injury or chronic condition involving ongoing pain. This happens so commonly that of the $5 billion spent annually on prescription medication, almost $3 billion is spent directly on opioids. So while the causes of the opioid crisis may be myriad, it is clear that preventing injury and pain in the workplace can be a major weapon against the affects of these harmful drugs.
A response to this problem must begin at the employer level. Companies are enacting aggressive wellness strategies through tools like ergonomic assessments, which provide an array of workplace health and safety data after close observation and analysis of the work environment. Likewise, employers can look to engage with their workers through enhanced training programs that teach employees proper stretching techniques and work mechanics, changes that could form the foundation of a healthier workplace free of pain that can lead to opioid use.
From there, the effort relies on communication between organizations, medical providers, and government organizations, which are revamping their guidelines for physicians prescribing opioids and cracking down on over prescription. With proper education and prevention strategies, pain can be mitigated at the root of the problem before it balloons into addiction.