Worker health and safety: A symbiotic relationship

Humans have dogs, and bees have flowers. They’re called symbiotic relationships, and they blossom when both parties benefit from the arrangement.

Nature isn’t the only place where the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” principle thrives. Businesses can leverage symbiosis to improve their employee wellness and safety programs.

Employee wellness has traditionally been the domain of human resources departments. Meanwhile, employee safety is delegated to the safety department. A closer look reveals the two programs have overlapping goals. Employers can get the most value out of them by breaking down the silos between the two functions. Here are just a few examples.

Stress. Stress management training can reduce injury rates by improving on-the-job focus. It can also help employees improve their relationships at home, which carries over into the workplace.

Nutrition. Employees’ diets impact their energy levels at work, as well as their risk of developing chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Physical fitness. On-the-job stretching and exercise programs, and exercises completed during personal time, improve employee strength and conditioning. Good conditioning, in turn, reduces the risk of strain-related injuries and chronic health conditions. That’s especially important nowadays, with more Americans working into their twilight years.

Chemical exposure. Employees can be exposed to hazardous chemicals on and off the job. Education on chemical hazards at work and at home can reduce injury rates and use of sick days.

Tobacco use. Tobacco use contributes to long-term health problems and increases susceptibility to inhalation hazards. Smoking cessation programs can help address both of these issues.

A case study in integration

MD Anderson Cancer Center created a workers’ compensation and injury care unit in its employee health and well-being department. Within six years, lost work days declined by 80 percent, and modified-duty days by 64 percent. Cost savings, calculated by multiplying the reduction in lost work days by average pay rates, totaled $1.5 million, and workers’ comp premiums declined by 50 percent.

Now that’s a business case for total worker health. In our last post of this series, we’ll give you a few practical tips for integrating your health and safety programs.

Until then, here are the previous posts in case you missed them:


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