by Mark J. Troxell, Vice President – Safety Services, Joseph McGinty, Vice President – Employee Benefits
The health and safety of all employees is undoubtedly a top priority for business owners and HR personnel alike. Healthy employees are more engaged and productive and have a higher morale. They are less likely to be absent from work and have a lower risk of on-site injuries. But are employees as concerned with their health and safety on the job as they are off of it?
Maybe, maybe not. But there are simple steps that employers can take to help motivate their workforce to stay healthy and safe at home and on the job, with the added benefit of boosting the impact of their employee benefits programs.
We Need to Talk
In any company, large or small, effective communication is critical to effective management. So why should managing the health and safety of employees be any different? Talk to your employees. Emphasize the importance of linking personal health and workplace safety through newsletters, emails and other company communication. Hold regular meetings and explain to your employees that their health and wellness matters to the company.
At The Graham Company, we recommend focusing on major safety areas and implementing multi-layered programs to encourage healthy lifestyles for employees both on and off the job. Substance abuse and physical condition programs are two examples of safety initiatives that educate the workforce on potential risks and motivate employees to take action.
Drug & Alcohol Programs
Substance abuse should be a concern for every employer, as the statistics speak for themselves. Alcoholics and problem drinkers are absent from work 3.8 to 8.3 times more often than social drinkers, and drug users are absent from work about five days per month. When substance abusers do show up to work, they are 33% less productive than their non-using co-workers and are responsible for up to 50% of all Workers’ Compensation claims, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance. In addition, alcohol-related problems cost American businesses an estimated $134 billion in productivity losses annually. That’s a pretty hefty cost.
But responsible companies should educate their workforce on what alcohol and drug abuse could mean to their co-workers, customers and personal life, not just to their employer. Substance-abusing employees are at a high risk for a work-related accident, being 3.6 times more likely to be injured at work than non-using co-workers. In addition, 4.6% of full-time workers ages 18-49 who reported current illicit drug use were fired in the past year, in comparison to 1.4% of their non-using co-workers. The physical and financial risks for substance abusers are clear. But employers need to educate their employees on them and implement safety programs that will apply to them both on and off the job.
Stretch & Flex Programs
Soft tissue injury is a major loss area for every type of industry, particularly construction, manufacturing and healthcare. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sprains and strains, most often involving the back, accounted for 41% of injuries and illnesses resulting in absence from work. That is a significant percentage that you can help avoid with proper physical condition programs.
A trend in physical conditioning programs is on-site Stretch & Flex prior to beginning a work shift. The program encourages simple 10-minute stretching and is often combined with morning safety talks. Useful in prevention and treatment of soft tissue injuries, including sprains and strains, Stretch and Flex has a myriad of physical and mental effects that can benefit employees outside of their workday activities. In addition to enhancing balance, coordination and circulation, stretching increases flexibility, which directly translates into reduced risk of injuries. Stretching also relaxes tense muscles, often accompanied by stress. A simple morning stretch can go a long way – and consistently educating your employees and implementing these programs can too.
Educate & Implement
Internally, it is key to identify health and safety risks in your employee population and implement effective programs to managing the risks that could weaken your workforce. But caring about the health of your employees isn’t always enough. You need to motivate them to care about their health too. So educate them. Explain the risks. Implement programs that reduce those risks. And show them how those programs can be applicable at home. Once they realize that you sincerely care, they might start to care more too.