The 23rd Annual National Workers’ Compensation & Disability Conference in Las Vegas kicked off with opening keynote L. Casey Chosewood, M.D., speaking on the serious impact that employees’ existing health problems have on workers’ compensation and disability costs.
The Need for Total Worker Health
What happens at home and what happens at work are not independent of each other. Hazards and risks can shuttle continuously back and forth from work life to home life. Because of this, Dr. Chosewood says that it does not make sense to isolate an employee’s job-related care from the care related to their personal life.
Risks related to diet, smoking, noise, risk taking, stress, ergonomics, lack of exercise and sleep deprivation all fall into a grey area that impacts health at home and work. Dr. Chosewood argues that these health challenges are the deadliest threats that most workers face and are significant cost drivers. Why? Because there is no disconnect between these at-home behaviors and the employees’ work health.
Dr. Chosewood stresses that we have to think of a patient-centered, work-centered approach and put these components under one umbrella. He refers to this strategy as “total worker health” or, in other words, the integration of occupation safety with health promotion to advance the health and well-being of workers.
He provided an example of marrying an existing respiratory health program with a smoking cessation program. Many organizations may have the respiratory health program in place because it is related to job conditions, however, the program would be much more successful if the employer could help eliminate smoking from the equation.
When you look at these items side by side, there is exponential risk. However, if you can align these programs, you help eliminate significant illness risks on the job.
Worker Health is an Economic Necessity
Dr. Chosewood says that, these days, companies spend more on healthcare for employees than any other expenditure in the cost of doing business. Not only does a healthier workplace lower the injury risk, it increases employee engagement and productivity – all ways to save on costs.
Contrary to common belief, behavior change programing is not enough. He cites the need for cultural change in the workplace to make these health outcomes possible. You cannot simply tell an employee not to do something. He says that companies must be brave enough to take some heat from making unpopular policy changes for long-term cultural change and gain.
Because you can access 65% of the adult population at work, he says that the workplace is the perfect place for making positive change related to health. In order to succeed as a nation, as an economy and as individual business, we have to send home healthy workers. He says that, sending workers home every day with more health than they arrived is the essence of total worker health.
The Aging Workforce
By 2015, one in five American workers will be 55 or older, therefore, aging continues to be a major factor in workers’ compensation and disability costs. You have to work with what you have. The only way you can do that is take this total health approach. Dr. Chosewood says studies show that older workers are actually the safest workers with fewer injuries, but tend to have more severe accidents and longer disability lengths of absence when they do become injured.
Chronic disease is what sets the aging workforce aside from younger generation and, often, chronic diseases travel in packs (i.e. people with high blood pressure often have heart disease). Underlying health conditions increases acute illness risks in workers.
In addition, some jobs predispose to poor health outcomes. For example, obesity is often linked to the transportation sector because of the sedentary conditions. There is clear evidence that work conditions can be a strong predictor of chronic disease outcomes.
Dr. Chosewood stresses that we must find comprehensive solutions because there is a large correlation between what happens at work and chronic diseases.
Creating a Culture of Health
He concluded by stating that companies that build a culture of health improve the economy because there are less people drawing from insurance programs like Medicare. You can go as far as to prove that a healthy workforce provides a greater return on investment for investors. But, in the end, we have greater opportunities to think beyond the numbers. Make your workers consider what (and who) in their life inspires them to adopt total worker health and they will succeed.
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