Taking Ownership of Health and Safety

How Personal Wellbeing has an Organizational Impact
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

The most valuable resource in any operation is humans – the workers who bring value to their jobs. While progress has automated many functions, the human element remains vital. Yet, workers are often not treated with the necessary degree of care.

Great care is taken on the maintenance and upkeep of tools, machinery and equipment to promote the longevity and optimal functioning of these capital investments. To keep them working at their best, they are regularly taken offline for scheduled service and care.

So why should the same care not be taken with human resources – to ensure the health, wellbeing, and so, productivity of employees? And where does the responsibility lie? With the employer, surely? Or not?

Countless studies prove that healthy employees are productive employees, and also safer and happier. Investing in employee health, safety, and wellbeing is actually good for the bottom line, as several levels of costs are saved by lower health insurance costs, as well as lower rates of absenteeism or “presenteeism”.

Absenteeism and presenteeism are both significant problems across workplaces in every sector and industry. The former, which means the employee is not at work, usually requires employers to make efforts to cover the shift, retrain employees or hire additional employees if it is a regular occurrence.

Presenteeism describes an employee who shows up to work and performs at a reduced level of productivity, the reason for which is usually valid. Be it fatigue, illness, stress, concern for themselves or a loved one, or when money is tight or jobs are on the line, employees will still show up despite not being at their best, but this is often at the employer’s cost.

In the October 2013 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a study measured rates of absenteeism and presenteeism in operations where a health promotion program existed. The results compared the performance of those who participated in the program and achieved their program goals with those who did not participate, and used the results to assess the impact of higher levels of wellness on productivity.

Research shows that where there are health promotion programs in place at an organization-wide level the effects can be amazing. In the above example, wellness coaches were made available via telephone to help employees identify health problems or risks. In those who participated, rates of absenteeism and presenteeism dropped, as did associated medical insurance costs.

The results showed that lost work time was reduced to 10.3 hours per year, which amounted to a saving of $350 per participating employee annually. Further to savings, efficiencies were achieved, as those who participated and reached their health goals experienced a 0.5 percent gain in productive time.

The organizational approach
Company-wide health and wellness initiatives are great because they incentivize changes and provide a system of accountability. Employees can collectively set, and work to achieve, realistic goals with the support and encouragement of their employer and their peers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in general, healthier employees are more productive and are less likely to call in sick or be required to use vacation time to recover from illness.

This is an especially important consideration because reducing stress is one aspect – and an important one – of better overall health. Vacation time is a significant contributor to stress reduction, as it is meant as a break from the demands of work. But it is hard to recharge properly when you are using vacation to address another stressor, like illness. This isn’t an issue where employers offer paid sick time, or sick-leave programs.

Companies that support workplace health and wellness have a greater percentage of workers at work every day, ready to do their best. They also benefit from improved goodwill toward the company from employees as a result of feeling cared for and valued. Increased care on the part of the employer leads to a more successful employee culture and a more motivated workforce.

As part of improving the workplace culture, there are environmental changes that can be made to ensure optimal comfort and productivity. Break times are important, but so too are the spaces where breaks are enjoyed. Complimentary beverages and snacks, comfortable furniture and ideal temperatures are all great starting points when creating an environment where employees can thrive.

One of the best examples of workplace initiatives with positive implications for health and productivity is a smoking cessation program. Less nicotine dependence can mean that workers are more active and attentive on the job, with less disruption and fewer breaks as a result. However, this does require a personal commitment to change from the worker and a genuine willingness to do so.

Owning your safety
While it is up to the employer to ensure that the individual has the resources and support to be safe and successful, it is the responsibility of the individual to show up at the job site prepared, meaning that they bring a positive and alert awareness to the requirements of the job. Even the smallest, seemingly irrelevant actions, done a little better, can have a surprising impact on job safety. Like, for instance, engaging correct posture.

Correct posture prevents injuries and promotes greater self-awareness. Improved self-awareness brings awareness of one’s surroundings and it has been shown that the result is usually cleaner and more organized workspaces with fewer risks like tripping hazards, for instance. More care is likely to be taken ensuring safety.

Self-aware employees also ensure they are wearing the proper clothing and footwear for the job. Most employees provide the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), but a prepared employee is also a safer employee, so it is best to show up ready to work safely.

There are countless things individuals can do to improve their own health and wellbeing that can also have far-reaching impacts on their coworkers and the workplace. Lifestyle changes are extremely impactful on a person’s productivity and safety, as well as the health and wellbeing of their family.

Positive individual health outcomes usually inspire changes at home as well, as families often become healthier together. Things like better nutrition, more sleep and exercise are good practices for everyone. This also contributes to reduced rates of absenteeism and presenteeism, as it improves the overall health of the family and reduces sick days and time spent caring for others.

Healthy worker, safer worker
Healthy workers can more clearly identify risks and are more apt to take responsibility for their own role in the health and safety of others. One of the most common safety issues on job sites across industries and sectors, is fall prevention.

Some of the best ways to prevent falls and protect yourself when working with heights go beyond safety protocols. Things like ensuring adequate sleep, healthy blood sugar levels and adequate hydration to prevent dizziness are great starting points for viable fall-prevention strategies.

Another action that can be taken to improve personal health and safety is to avoid intoxication from drugs or alcohol and monitor the use of drugs that may have side effects that impair your ability to work safely. Quite a few commonly available medications also induce drowsiness or dizziness, so you will want to be free of them if you’re working with heavy machinery or at any height.

It’s imperative to keep mobile telephone and technology use at a minimum when working to reduce distractions and ensure full attention is being paid. Instead of worrying about your phone, be sure to use sun protection, including headwear and a lotion with a reasonable sun protection factor (SPF) if you’re working outside. Once again, hydration is key.

When someone is at their best, they are nimbler, sharper and more aware. Workers should regularly have their vision and hearing checked to guarantee that they are able to identify risks on the job site and are able to do their job to its fullest. If not, there are glasses and hearing aids that can assist and will make worksites safer for everyone.

Some of the best ways to stay safe are to ask questions if uncertain, never take shortcuts, take breaks if needed, be a team player and avoid risks at all costs. That means any risks to personal health and wellbeing, as these are never in the best interest of the employee, the worksite or the company’s bottom line.

Safety is a personal responsibility as much as it is an organizational one. Everyone has a role to play in worker health and safety, and it starts with you.

It is up to regulatory bodies to establish standards, and it is up to the employer to establish procedures and provide resources, but it is the responsibility of the worker to abide by them and remain compliant – so making everyone a little, or even a lot, safer.



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