As the New Year approaches and companies begin looking for effective cost-management strategies in 2018, the time is right to consider wellness as a possible solution. With costs continually on the rise, wellness and safety programs have become critical tools for businesses and organizations looking to improve their bottom line against an uncertain future. Working those programs together allows for a more holistic approach to employees remaining injury free.
The costs associated with health care for employees are well documented, with various sources placing the annual financial burden of treatment and workers’ compensation in the billions. That estimate includes not just the direct, predictable costs of health incidents, but also the indirect costs, which amount to 2 to 5 times the direct costs. These come from many sources, including employee absenteeism and lost productivity as a result of chronic pain or recovery from injury. That means you’re not just paying for treatment and lost time – you’re also playing catch-up in order to preserve your bottom line.
Fortunately, there are now more options available to employers than ever before to help keep employees safe and injury free on the job. Per the National Center for Health Statistics, total costs associated with pain alone accounts for over $600 billion between medical costs and lost productivity. Along with direct costs from workers’ compensation reaching $20 billion per year, having a well-designed program of wellness, safety and risk management is needed to reduce pain and avoid injuries altogether.
A strong workplace safety and health program should incorporate Total Worker Health™ practices, a flexible set of tools that allows employers to isolate the specific risks they face on a day-to-day basis. The customizable nature of this approach allows employers to cater their wellness programs to their workforce and, most critically, their budget. This arsenal of knowledge and practical applications is built to address worker health on every level: Body, Behavior, and Environment. This strategy factors in physical elements, the behavioral techniques and practices that workers use every day, and the risks inherent to the modern workplace. By considering all three levels, you can ensure healthy employees who understand how to be safe on the job and a work environment that makes it easy for them to do so. In short, focusing on the Body, Behaviors and Environment of employees is a better strategy to keeping employees safe and healthy than concentrating on one component alone.
Creating a budget
Many employers have to deal with tight budgets when they set out to establish a safety and wellness program for their workers, but this obstacle doesn’t have to be insurmountable. By focusing on a few key factors, employers can help stabilize their budgeting conditions and get the most for the resources you have available. This process starts with a careful look at the observable trends in the safety and health incidents of your work environment, including detailed reporting on the specific work functions that tend to lead to injury. This can also be accomplished with the help of a partner who can execute a workplace assessment. From there, the effort to understand the needs of your workplace relies on communication and engagement with the employees themselves. Listen to your workers and take into account the feedback they provide on their own jobs. Doing so is a valuable step in any workplace safety program, and helps to encourage buy-in from workers and an overall culture of wellness in your business. With this understanding in your toolkit, you’ll be able to evaluate specific areas of your organization that need safety support or wellness training, allowing you to pinpoint risks and mitigate them before injuries incur major costs.
Measure your results
Like sales or production initiatives, measuring of results of your wellness and safety programs should be a constant practice. Lack of measurement leads executive leadership to lose interest, along with the risk of an overall failure in the program. Identify what is important to your organization and measure both baseline and results of the program over time on how they impact the baseline result. Be it absenteeism, productivity improvement, morale, medication usage, claims (healthcare and workers’ comp) or other KPIs, a well-designed program will realize world-class annual returns. Tracking these results with before-and-after surveys as well as other tools that report trends by occupation, gender, and age will allow for corrective interventions. Whether these corrections take the form of manual therapy, education and training classes, or even an ergonomic assessment, you’ll have the opportunity to boost the likelihood of success and sustainability of your programs.
10 Ideas for Implementing Total Worker Health™ on a Budget
1) Implement low-cost programs to promote physical fitness
Depending on your business type, it’s possible to use simple culture and policy changes to foster good health among your employees. Make walking and biking to work an incentivized item in your wellness program, and consider giving employees points toward a goal if they commit to an alternative, active way to get to work. If your budget allows it, providing group fitness classes like yoga can be an excellent way to engage employees and promote overall health.
2. Educate your employees about safety and wellness
Any effective workplace safety program must begin with a rigorous education for workers in the foundational topics of safety and wellness in the workplace. These can take the form of detail-oriented training in common workplace issues like hazards, proper protective equipment, accident response, and correct mechanics in common job movements. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that implementing education and training programs for employees can reduce the risk of injury and illness by up to 60%. Education is a proactive way to keep employees safe and happy. Utilizing lunch-and-learns and bringing in strength and conditioning coaches or wellness coaches will help in the education process.
3. Create a safety and wellness incentive program
Motivating employees shouldn’t rely solely on to focus on best practices. Safety and wellness require work, and your employees should be rewarded for dedicating time and energy to their own well-being. Begin with simple goals that employees can work toward over time, ones that encourage a healthy lifestyle and can be easily tracked. Devise rewards and make sure your employees are rewarded on time. Don’t assume that the same incentives will satisfy and motivate all of your employees to take advantage of the rewards. Take into everything that you know about your employees and their work, and perform an assessment if necessary to fill holes in your knowledge.
4. Implement a tobacco cessation program
By now, we’re all familiar with the negative health affects associated with smoking cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control report that smoking costs $167 billion per year in the United States, a fact that demonstrates the significant healthcare demands that result from smoking. That’s a cost that employers must help bear, but you can avoid the risks by enacting simple smoking cessation policies in your workplace. Provide employees with literature and support for quitting smoking, and incentivize quitting in your rewards programs. If your budget allows, you can also provide onsite counseling for employees and allow your workers to pursue a healthier lifestyle with real-time support.
5. Have your worksite assessed for risk
Risk will always exist in the workplace, but you can give yourself an advantage by pursuing a full understanding of the specific risks of your work environment. If your budget is tight, you can request a consultation with OSHA from your regional OSHA office.
However, your job site might benefit from a deeper analysis that can deliver real suggestions for improvement and offer a continued influence among employees. A full assessment will observe the workplace in detail, monitoring employees while they perform their tasks for bad habits that you can retrain. Likewise, a good assessment includes analysis of the environment so that you can isolate problem areas and correct them with better equipment, tools, and other improvements.
6. Engage and communicate directly with employees
Whether you run a small warehouse or a major factory, it’s essential that you understand your employees and their needs. Seek feedback from your workers; talk to them about their jobs and the safety issues they face on a daily basis. They possess the best understanding of the risks of their jobs, and they’ll help you attack the right areas as you initiate your plan. You’ll find many valuable answers, and you’ll help your workers feel valued by their employees, a major factor in creating a broad culture of health within a company.
7. Incorporate nutrition into your wellness materials
Though less obviously impactful on your company’s health picture than training programs and good equipment, nutrition can provide a boost to your wellness culture. Promote healthy consumption of fruit and vegetables, and if you can, supply healthy options in vending machines and break rooms. If you have on-site cafeterias, make sure they serve quality products and offer healthy choices. Wellness begins with what we eat, and you have the power to help your employees stay healthy.
8. Make sure your equipment is up to the task
There are many environmental factors that influence the overall safety of your job site, but the tools and machinery are the points where your workers most often interact with the environment. Don’t use outdated equipment, and make sure the tools your employees use are up to good ergonomic standards. An ergonomic assessment can highlight details like this, and help you implement simple solutions rather than risking the high and unpredictable costs associated with injuries or chronic pain in the workplace.
9. Track your workplace wellness progress
If you’ve implemented a company wellness program, it’s essential that you observe and keep detailed records of safety issues so that you can track your progress. Without proper procedures for reporting incidents and measuring success, you’ll struggle to tailor your program to new needs over time. Moreover, you’ll want to know how effective your wellness program is. Return on investment is critical, so you need to find and define third-party-validated programs that have a healthy return of up to 600%.
10. Designate health and safety officers within your workforce
Engaging with your employees catalyzes better health and performance, but it’s also important to know that employees tend to trust each other. Nominating health and wellness “champions” in your workplace can help inspire your workers to focus on their health and safety. Encourage people to seek out these positions and take responsibility for the health of their colleagues. Doing so will continue to promote that essential culture of wellness, in which workers are engaged and productive and your costs remain low.
As with any initiative, there are many ways to accomplish your objectives of a healthy and safe work environment and workforce. These methods vary in value, return, and investment required. The ten ideas outlined here will give you a road map to help you move through the noise toward programs that work for your organization. Support from executive leadership and a defined budget that isn’t abandoned at the first sign of a missed goal are essential components of a successful program. The returns are significant, and when viewed as part of an organization’s culture, DNA, and strategy, these returns can reach 400%, 500%, and even over 600% annually.
Empowering employees to take ownership of their own health and safety is a cornerstone of a successful wellness program. This can be achieved through effective education and engagement initiatives. Whatever solutions you implement, bringing ownership to all parts of the organization helps to increase the likelihood of success and healthy financial returns.