As a safety professional for many years I’ve always been conflicted by the HSE designations. Immediately this indicates three silos that must be managed. Health refers commonly to wellness programs, safety is the defensive work we do to protect the employees at work and of course environment that we will not discuss in this blog.
Since we have silo processes right out of the gate, most companies have different groups with diverse focuses and goals managing the parts. I do not feel they are mutually exclusive and will make a case for tearing down the silos to improve the health and wellness of employees while improving opportunities for a company to benefit financially. Where do we begin?
I am going to commit safety sacrilege and say something very controversial here. Safety is not number 1. Don’t worry, neither are production numbers, profit statements or compliance awards. People are number 1. ISO55000 defines an asset as "An asset is an item, thing or entity that has potential or actual value to an organization". People are an organizations most important asset. Good production equipment, good procedures and good products are easily replaced but good people are not. A company will be negligent by not providing the best available preventative and predictive maintenance strategies in place for critical equipment. Why then would there not be an interest to provide the best care strategies for employees.
It is reported that there are 311 million Americans in the US and 155 million are workers. In the oil industry on average they spend more than half of their waking hours (9.7hrs/day) working. Work affects employee’s health care options, emotional well-being and family life. In order to fully address health, we have to address what happens both at work and outside of work.
In most companies workplace wellness and safety programs have been managed in silos along with workers comp and benefits. Health protection or safety programs have focused on reducing worker exposures to risks in the workplace. Company wellness programs have focused exclusively on lifestyle risk factors off of the job.
Statistics show that workers comp costs have been relatively stable but the cost of healthcare is becoming a much greater issue. In fact the high cost of healthcare is quite often one of the top concerns by business owners. There are some estimates that with the current growth rate that in the US by 2030, 27-30% of gross domestic product will be spent on healthcare. This is economically unsustainable.
Another challenge is that many workers are choosing to work longer for various reasons including the sliding dates of social security benefits due to the governments mishandling of the funds. Fewer workers retire early today and the trend is forecast to continue. According to a Boston College report, many older workers rate their health status as good to excellent. Unfortunately this may not be true in that many also report having chronic conditions that affect them causing them to be forced out due to medical issues.
Another problem is Insurance providers work with clients and client corporate internal structure. Most often I see Financial Department or controller and the property/casualty agents focus on workers comp and safety, while HR and benefits agents focus on employee benefits and wellness. In most cases employee benefits cost six to eight times more workers comp but are not the focus of finance. Maybe it is a result of history, convenience or lack of expertise but it doesn’t make good business sense.
When it comes to managing risk, workers comp and safety get the lion’s share of attention with little or no recognition of managing health. This in turn raises the cost of healthcare and increases lost productivity through absenteeism or ineffective performance of the workforce. This not only raises costs to the employer but subsequently affects employee morale and performance through higher premiums and lower wages.
There is growing evidence that a coordinated approach to health promotion or wellness and health protection or safety is more effective if approached together instead of separately. In 2004, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) launched an initiative based on a comprehensive view of worker health and safety. This comprehensive view of keeping employees healthy and safe both at work and home makes sense. While employers have a duty to provide safe and hazard-free workplace, they also have many opportunities to promote individual health and healthy work environments. Maintaining a healthier workforce can help to lower direct costs such as insurance premiums and workers comp claims. It also works indirectly to minimize absenteeism and increase productivity. If the desire is to improve the health of employees, your company can create a wellness culture that is employee centered; provides supportive environments where safety is ensured and health can emerge and grow; and provides employees to engage in a variety of workplace health programs.
Affects Outside of Work
Everyone will benefit from a healthy workforce. As the company notices the benefits at the workplace other benefits will emerge. As an employee feels healthier and happier, so does his family. Some of these things are examples of the overlap between work and family:
- Stress from work affects our family life and vice versa.
- Eating nutritious foods makes for a more healthier and productive workforce yet healthy food is difficult or impossible to find at work.
- Chemical exposures on the job can be exposures at home by contamination of clothing
- Poor safety performance of a facility can lead to stress for families.
- Increased costs of benefits and insurances can result is financial stresses for families and result in family health being put at risk.
A company has excellent opportunities to influence overall health by addressing general health issues and not just workplace hazards. This can only happen if the company puts forth an operational coordination of policies, programs and practices designed to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses, while enhancing overall workforce health and wellbeing.
There are some key requirements that must be in place for integration to be successful:
- Organizational leadership and commitment. Top management needs to define and communicate clearly the vision and provide adequate resources for implementation. A plan without resources is just another flavor of the month and destined for less than satisfactory results.
- Coherent coordination between health protection and health promotion. Finance, HR and your safety organization along with solid employee participation need to be at the table. Consider a remake to your current safety committee into a health and safety committee since the basic structure and budget is already there and makes it easier to expand the focus of the current group rather than re-invent the wheel.
- Supporting organizational policies and practices. This includes processes for accountability and training, coordinated management and employee engagement strategies, benefits and incentives to support workplace health promotion and protection and assurance processes to measure performance as well as comprehensive program content (classes, tool-box talks, health promotion topics etc.)
Once the integration steps are prepared you are ready to design and implement your program. There are some key principles to keep in mind.
- Engage the workers
- Engage management
- Develop a clear and detail project plan with allocated resources
- Integrate systems (Silo Removal)
- Focus on organizational solutions rather than quick fixes
- Provide appropriate incentives
- Stay flexible
- Continually evaluate the program. Make adjustments when appropriate.
Integration is not easy but it should be for a variety of reasons:
- Workers are interested in health issues.
- Rising costs of claims can be slowed
- Chances of wellness principles being accepted increase when it is folded into the safety program which is already accepted by the workforce
Most diseases, injuries and other health conditions experienced by the workforce involve a number of factors or causes that the siloed approach of most companies fails to recognize or treat. This is especially true as the workforce ages. Evidence supporting the role of work and personal risk factors in the health of working people is often underused in developing interventions. Achieving a longer, healthy working life requires a comprehensive preventative approach. A company needs to deal with the whole worker, one of their most valuable assets, working to keep them healthy and safe at both work and home. Successful integration will result in lower costs for workers comp and group health insurance. It also results in a more effective workforce and improves morale.