An Integrated Approach to Safety
During our education, training, and mentoring as safety professionals, we were told our purpose is to make sure employees are kept safe and healthy. And so, we have developed programs, procedures, assessments, spreadsheets, checklists, and more to achieve that end within the confines of the work areas. We are on the production floor doing assessments, talking to employees, managers and stakeholders, and countless other activities to meet our purpose of injury & illness prevention.
But sometimes there are variables outside the workplace that influence employees’ well-being and consequently increase the likelihood of an occupational injury or illness. Therefore, we need to acknowledge these variables and consider them when planning our next safety interventions. Some safety professionals and business owners may wonder why external variables beyond the workplace will affect their safety programs if they ensure employees follow the company’s safety rules and procedures.
As one example, let’s talk about weight. Obesity can increase the risk of heat stress due to a decreased ability to regulate body temperature. There have been studies showing the relationship between obesity and injuries. Using data from the U.S. CDC’s National Health Interview Survey, one study concluded that overweight and obese workers were 25% to 68% more likely to have injuries when compared to normal weight workers. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) published a report showing how obesity increases the risk of disabling injuries. The report concluded that medical treatments and costs for injured workers who are obese are usually greater than injured workers with the same type of injury who are not obese. Greater costs of accidents could negatively influence a company’s experience modification rate and, therefore, the amount of workers’ compensation premium to be paid in a given year.
Another variable is age. Current economic times are pushing many workers to stay beyond traditional retirement age or return from retirement. Because of younger worker turnover, companies are embracing older workers resulting in a multigenerational workforce including Traditionalist and Baby Boomers to Generation Z. Now imagine conducting a safety training to employees belonging to different generations who respond differently to one teaching method versus another. Creating an effective safety training for a multigenerational workforce can be challenging.
These are just two examples of external variables that can affect workplace safety. Additional examples include mental health, fatigue, burnout and others. Acknowledging that external factors impact workers’ well-being, safety and health, and addressing these factors through company policies, programs, and practices are the basis of Total Worker Health.
The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have resources explaining the essential elements of Total Worker Health and how companies can implement them. These include self-evaluation tools, team strategies, and steps to success.
It is understandable that addressing all the variables that affect workers’ well-being is challenging. A good starting point could be identifying and prioritizing actions for just one or two external variables that have the most impact on your employees.
Investing in worker well-being and integrating the principles of Total Worker Health makes good business sense as exemplified by many Fortune 500 companies.
MEMIC policy holders can contact their loss control consultant for assistance in identifying and prioritizing action items.
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