Research paper after study after meta-analysis have all shown the same thing - worker obesity costs big time and the extra costs hit every benefit bucket - health benefits, disability, and, of course, workers' comp. In the January issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, ACOEM offers a detailed look at how employers can take serious steps to reduce the burden of obesity on costs, but most of all, on the workers themselves. WorkersCompensation.com provides a good summary. For the full report, go to www.acoem.org.
The ACOEM expert panel analysis and recommendations are based on some 275 careful research studies which look at various aspects of the impact of obesity on elements such as employee health, productivity, absence, claims costs, etc. The numbers are big. Some 38% of American workers are obese. Not roly-poly, zaftig, or chubby hubby plump, but clinically obese. Excessive absenteeism among the obese alone costs some $8.65 billion annually. The report notes that "the cost of obesity among workers is immense, and the responsibility for managing it is increasingly falling to employers."
What to do? ACOEM says it best:
Based on the evidence, the expert panel provides a set of treatment recommendations for addressing worker obesity. Treatment recommendations include implementing workplace wellness programs and behavioral counseling to aid employees in adopting healthy lifestyles. Based on studies showing health and economic benefits, the expert panel also recommends that employers offer insurance coverage and access to bariatric surgery for treatment of obesity. The recommendations include specific criteria for eligibility for bariatric surgery.
In other words, try everything. This is not a case for half measures. Employee obesity impacts every aspect of a company's function. The report's conclusion is a call to dump the comfortable fables that "it's not that important", or "it's someone else's problem, not mine" or "if people like being fat, we can't do anything about it."
It is becoming widely known that companies with healthy employees succeed and have better employee and customer satisfaction. Obesity is a key determinant of health, yet increasing at alarming rates. The importance of adding greater awareness and better programs to combat obesity to the workplace cannot be overstated.
If Obesity Doesn't Get You...
While the overall rate of fatal workplace injuries has been trending down since the end of World War II, many industries and occupations remain much more dangerous than the normal run. A recent update in 24/7 Wall St spikes out the 25 most likely to be fatal jobs in the US. The whole list, with an often insightful commentary, is much too long for the Journal, but here are a few highlights that might surprise you.
- #20, for example, has nothing to do with hard hats and heavy equipment. It's coaches and athletic program workers. Athletes, coaches, and umpires, amateur and professional, are at greater risk of a fatal injury than the vast majority of workers in the United States. Do you sponsor summer softball or other sports?
- Leading from the front - in several categories, the supervisors and managers have a significantly higher risk of death than the line workers. This is especially true for mechanical installation services, construction, and agriculture.
- Pilots and flight engineers - even in this era of rare plane crashes, these jobs are more dangerous than - gulp - crab fishing and neck and neck with roofing.
- Driving - truck drivers, route salesman and anyone else who spends a lot of work time in a vehicle are #7 in the top 25.
Do you have operations in the Deadly 25? This is worth checking out, especially as a hedge against complacency. Perhaps you have not had a serious accident in your route sales operation in years. But they happen every week to someone's employee. General maintenance and light repair work doesn't sound too thrilling. A scraped knuckle from time to time? Hey, it's #15 in the Deadly 25. This bears thinking about. Mr. G. Reaper doesn't make appointments. He just turns up.
Another List of 25!
OK, all of your people work in offices, so safety's a snap, right? Well, according to our friends at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (seriously, the BLS is one of greatest public resources our tax dollars pay for every year), well over 80,000 of our fellow Americans are injured annually in offices. Health + Safety recently published "Recognizing hidden dangers: 25 steps to a safer office". Offices may well be all the more dangerous because they seem so familiar and unthreatening. Most of us have a certain instinctive and healthy fear around large pieces of noisy machinery, but filing cabinets? (See #5 on the list - the attack of the open file drawer.)
If you have lots of employees in offices, read the whole list. Are your safety people actively promoting the ideas listed? For example, are your people jacking their chairs up too high to reach keyboard trays (see # 9)? This is a nice way to promote more lower back problems for comp and group health both. What about lighting? Items 11 through 14 explain all the ways in which not thinking about or checking lighting in an office can lead to vision and other problems. Don't forget, by the way, that older employees need more light. The normal human lens loses about 30% of its transparency by age 60. Individual workstation, employee controlled lighting can be a serious eye-saver.
Our favorite? Check out # 19 - fun and games with space heaters. A space heater can be a lifesaver for an employee with poor circulation when used correctly but it can also lead to serious injuries and fires. All this in the comfort of your office.
And don't forget that many of these same best practice tips also apply to the retail environment. A poorly lit, poorly maintained stockroom, for example, can generate the slip, trip, and fall claim from hell before you know it. We all need reminders from time to time not to take safety for granted. We like to believe the world is benign. "Isn't it pretty to think so?" says the arch-cynic, Hemingway.
Nano? WHO? Huh?
Just when you thought your worry card was full, the World Health Organization has issued its first bulletin concerning the health risks of nanoparticles. Manufactured nanomaterials, which have at least one dimension (height, width or length) that is smaller than 100 nanometers, are used in numerous industrial applications, including paints, electronics, and drugs and their applications are expanding every day. Not much is known about the interaction of nanoparticles and human tissues currently, but early research indicates that some may pose a health threat. WHO anticipates a surge in research of manufactured nanomaterials and has proposed updating the guidelines in 2022. Meanwhile, if you are in any line of business which uses or soon will use nanomaterials, it would be a good idea to follow the best available science in protecting your workers, and your customers.