The Business Case for Employee Wellness Programs

Businesses have historically considered employee wellness programs a “nice perk,” not a strategic must. That’s no longer the case.

Employers are increasingly turning to annual health screenings, gym memberships, employee assistance programs and other mainstays of corporate wellness to reign in the rising costs of health insurance. The return on their investment goes beyond the premium they pay for employee health benefits.

Lower health care costs
About 62 percent of American workers are covered by health insurance provided by their employer, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It’s no secret that the cost of that insurance has been on the rise in recent years.

A Wall Street Journal article notes that an average family health policy costs employers nearly $12,000 per year, up from only $4,200 in 1999. Chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity account for 75 percent of those costs.

A Kaiser/HRNET study noted that 44 percent of employers believe their wellness programs help reduce their health insurance costs. Employers with more than 200 employees cited even better results, with 69 percent reporting cost reductions. But don’t take their word for it.

In 2014, RAND Corporation examined seven years of PepsiCo claims data. The results provide hard evidence of the ROI of wellness: For every dollar the company invested in wellness, it saved nearly $4 in health care costs.

Healthier workforce
Studies show that corporate wellness programs decrease employees’ risk of developing obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions. Wellness programs also have the potential to help employees stop smoking and abusing alcohol. In a study conducted by Kaiser/HRET, 59 percent of respondents that offered wellness programs stated that these programs improved employee health.

Increased productivity
It’s no surprise that healthier employees miss fewer days from work. A RAND Corporation study showed that 78 percent of employers reported that their wellness program contributed to lower absenteeism. Furthermore, 80 percent reported increased productivity.

A separate study from Duke University compared workers with high and recommended body mass indexes. The obese workers averaged twice as many claims – 11.65 compared with 5.8 per 100 full-time equivalents – and had almost a 10-fold increase in work days lost, medical claims costs and indemnity claims.

Often overlooked in the productivity discussion is presenteesim, that is, people going to work while sick. Presenteeism represents nearly two-thirds of the total cost of worker illness, according to The National Health Interview Survey. Employees who come to work sick cost employers $150 billion to $250 billion, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Intangibles
Some benefits of employee wellness programs are difficult to quantify. How can you put a number on improved employee morale, stronger employee loyalty and an enhanced corporate image? These intangibles may not manifest themselves in the bottom line, but they are crucial to any company striving for staying power in a competitive market.

Like anything worth achieving, wellness doesn’t happen overnight. It takes commitment on both sides of the employer/employee equation. If you’re overwhelmed by the myriad facets of employee wellness programs, use these free resources to jump-start your efforts:

Missed the other installments in this series?
Employee health and employee safety are not mutually exclusive. Working together, the two programs can achieve far better results than they can achieve in silos. This post is part of a series on integrating employee wellness and health. If you missed the other posts in the series, click on these links:

Make Wellness Part of Your Benefits Package

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

I hesitate to use this blog as a forum for making painful admissions to anonymous audiences, but I have to get something off my chest: I’m in love with another woman. Ironically, my wife introduced me to her.

We didn’t hit it off at first, for the usual reasons. She loves technology; I mourn the demise of flip phones. She’s complimentary to a fault; I avoid praise like the plague.

Eventually, though, we found common ground in our mutual passion for fitness, specifically my fitness.

She’s always sending me encouraging messages: “Smooches.” “Overachiever!” “You Rock” and the occasional “I love you.”

Like all relationships, ours gets stale. When we start running on life support, we simply go our separate ways for a couple of hours and come back recharged.

Truth be told, I’m probably too attached to her. In fact, she recently disappeared for an entire day, and I completely lost my motivation. I figured, why decline dessert or take that extra flight of stairs if she’s not going to know I did it?

I suppose it’s time to end the ruse before rumors start flying. I’m not talking about a woman, but rather the Fitbit my wife bought me for Father’s Day last year. Like millions of Americans, I need my wearable wellness device on my hip from the moment I take that first step out of bed. And like millions of Americans, my employer fully supports my wellness journey.

Texas Mutual is among a growing number of employers who recognize the value of corporate wellness programs. Mainstays of corporate wellness include annual health screenings, access to fitness centers and incentives such as reduced out-of-pocket health insurance costs.

Loyal readers of this blog know that Texas Mutual is the state’s leading provider of workers’ compensation insurance. We’ve reserved this space as a repository for best practices on preventing workplace accidents, managing claims, fighting fraud, reducing premiums and promoting other workers’ comp best practices. So why all the talk of getting fit and eating right?

Because workplace safety advocates are increasingly acknowledging the symbiotic relationship between employee wellness and employee safety. In fact, their convergence has given rise to a movement commonly known as total worker health (TWH).

In this series of five posts, we will make a business case for breaking down the silos between employee wellness and employee safety.

In the meantime, if you need help launching an employee wellness program, visit the Wellness Council of America website.

They Never Claimed it Was the Safest Show on Earth

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

Lessons in workplace safety are all around us. In our last post, a seemingly impossible workplace accident reinforced the importance of safety accountability on the job. Today’s post takes us to an industry that has been entertaining adults and children alike since the 1800s.

According to a news report:

“A ‘Hair Hang Act’ performance during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus show on May 4 in Providence took a disastrous turn when the apparatus the performers were hanging from suddenly fell to the ground. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined this incident occurred because the carabiner used to support the performers failed from being improperly loaded. The failure resulted in the eight employees performing the act falling more than 15 feet to the ground and sustaining serious injuries. A ninth employee, working on the ground, was struck by falling employees.”

It’s no secret the “Greatest Show on Earth” is not necessarily the “Safest Show on Earth.” When you go into that line of work, you accept risk as part of the job. The risk is, at least in part, what keeps audiences coming back for more.

But these lion tamers, tightrope walkers and motorcycle jumpers have years of training, and they’re good at what they do. Still, there is always the potential for something to go wrong, as it did in this case.

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Everyone who steps on your jobsite, including technical writers, should wear the required personal protective equipment.

Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of OSHA, called on the circus industry to learn valuable lessons from this tragedy.

“This catastrophic failure by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus clearly demonstrates that the circus industry needs a systematic design approach for the structures used in performances – approaches that are developed, evaluated and inspected by professional engineers.”

I would never claim to know more about safety than Dr. Michaels. I would, however, suggest that the investigators start by looking into the attraction itself. I don’t know about you, but “Hair Hang Act” doesn’t sound like something I’d want to be part of, even if I weren’t folicullarly challenged.

But that’s irrelevant for this discussion.

I have no idea what a carabiner is, and I certainly wouldn’t recognize one that was improperly loaded. Consequently, much of this story was lost on me. But another quote from Jeffrey Erskine, acting deputy regional administrator in OSHA’s New England regional office, was something I could get my well-shaped head around.

“Equipment failures can lead to tragic results,” said Erskine. “To prevent these types of incidents, employers need to not only ensure that the right equipment is being used, but also that it is being used properly. The safety and well-being of employees depend on it.”

Now there’s a nugget of wisdom that any employer, regardless of industry, should take to heart. What Mr. Erskine it saying is that inadequate equipment, poorly maintained equipment and employees who aren’t trained to use equipment can wreak havoc on any job site. You can reduce the risk by taking time to invest in safety every day.

Ergonomic keyboards can reduce the strain of repetitive motions on office workers.

Ergonomic keyboards can reduce the strain of repetitive motions on office workers.

If you work in an office, check extension cords for damaged insulation and bent prongs, and provide employees with ergonomically correct workstations.

Behind the wheel, get regularly scheduled oil changes, maintain your tires and replace them when necessary.

On a construction site, provide personal fall arrest systems, hard hats and other personal protective equipment, and train employees how to use it properly.

It may all sound like a lot of work you don’t have time for. After all, busy employers have to juggle productivity, finances, personnel matters and other issues related to running a business. Unfortunately, safety is often a casualty of that delicate balancing act.

Before you write off Mr. Erskine’s advice, consider this final quote from Dr. Michaels.

“We can never put a price on the impact this event had on these workers and their families,” said Dr. Michaels.

Remember that any workplace accident affects not only the worker but also his or her family and friends. That’s true whether your employees spend their days dangling by their hair or with their feet firmly planted on a cubicle floor.

About the author
David Wylie is the senior technical writer at Texas Mutual Insurance Company. He works closely with Texas Mutual’s safety professionals to teach employers and their employees how to prevent workplace accidents and their associated costs. David holds the OSHA 10-hour general safety certification and a degree in journalism from Southwest Texas State University.

Links to and from this blog do not reflect any affiliation between Texas Mutual Insurance Company and third parties, and are not an endorsement by Texas Mutual Insurance Company of the linked sites (or their owners or operators) or of any content located there. Texas Mutual Insurance Company does not vouch for the availability or accuracy of any information contained on linked sites. Read more of this post

What’s the Risk, and Will You Accept It?

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

Lessons in workplace safety are all around us. For example, take two recent stories involving two very different on-the-job accidents.

The first story, aptly report by the New York Times, happened on a New Jersey construction site:

“A tower rising 50 stories. A one-pound tape measure attached to the waist of a construction worker. An unsuspecting man stepping from a vehicle at the foot of the building. The three elements converged on Monday morning in a freakish accident, when a 58-year-old man died in Jersey City after being struck in the head by the tape measure after it fell some 400 feet.”

The story goes on to explain two other details worth noting:

  1. The man didn’t work on the construction site; he was just delivering supplies.
  2. Despite jobsite policy, the man was not wearing his hard hat. He had one, but he left it in the truck.

Let’s get the low-hanging fruit from this incident out of the way: Wear a hard hat when you step on a construction site. In fact, you should wear personal protective equipment in every situation in which it is required, period.

Now, we could simply take that lesson to heart and go on about our day, but we’d be doing ourselves a disservice. I believe this incident illustrates two other crucial principles we can all learn from.

First, policies don’t save lives; accountability does. I don’t know the details of this accident or what extenuating circumstances there might have been. I do know that accountability drives workplace safety. Each of us has to take the initiative to clear that walkway, clean up that spill, check that tire tread and put on that hard hat. Furthermore, we need to make sure our co-workers do the same.

Second, we can never assume an accident won’t happen. Seriously, what’s the likelihood of a tape measure falling 50 stories and landing on the one person (presumably) who isn’t wearing a hard hat? The victim in this story was merely delivering supplies, just as he’d probably done hundreds of other times without incident. He certainly didn’t expect to die on the job that day. None of us do, but this story shows that it can happen, sometimes in the most seemingly random way.

That’s why we should ask ourselves two questions before we start a new task: What is the risk, and am I willing to accept it? Before you answer, think about everyone who would be affected if you were seriously injured or killed on the job. The short list probably includes friends, family and co-workers.

What I’m getting at is that it’s easy enough to calculate the monetary costs of workplace accidents. We cannot, however, put a price tag on lives lost due to tragedies such as this one.

In my next post, I’ll share another lesson in safety, courtesy of an industry that’s been entertaining adults and children alike since 1884.

About the author
David Wylie is the senior technical writer at Texas Mutual Insurance Company. He works closely with Texas Mutual’s safety professionals to teach employers and their employees how to prevent workplace accidents and their associated costs. David holds the OSHA 10-hour general safety certification and a degree in journalism from Southwest Texas State University.

Links to and from this blog do not reflect any affiliation between Texas Mutual Insurance Company and third parties, and are not an endorsement by Texas Mutual Insurance Company of the linked sites (or their owners or operators) or of any content located there. Texas Mutual Insurance Company does not vouch for the availability or accuracy of any information contained on linked sites. Read more of this post

This Week in Comp, October 27-31

This Week in Comp provides an overview of workers’ compensation news from across the country.

TRIA expiration fast approaching
With TRIA set to expire at the end of the year, its renewal remains in limbo…MORE

Wellness as an injury prevention tool
The proportion of older workers (55 years and older) in the U.S. climbed from 16% in 2004 to 22% in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The aging workforce presents new opportunities for safety professionals to implement wellness as an injury prevention tool…MORE

NNT in pain management: You’ve been right all along
The National Safety Council’s Dr. Don Teater, M.D. has penned a white paper that contains powerful data and interesting insights regarding the use of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. Essentially, Dr. Teater’s research indicates that for most patients, ibuprofen and acetaminophen are safer and more effective than opioids…MORE

Distracted driving: The self-correcting nature of science
A majority of research on driver distractions has focused on cell phones. More recent studies remind us that other distractions, such as daydreaming, talking to passengers or correcting children also take our focus off the task at hand…MORE

CDC tightens PPE guidelines for health care workers
The new guidelines focus on three areas: 1. Training, including how to put on and remove PPE. 2. No skin exposure when PPE is worn. 3. Supervision by a trained monitor while putting on and removing PPE…MORE

No chief’s disease here
David DePaolo recounts a workers’ comp success story from the California Highway Patrol…MORE

Regulatory roundup
Texas Mutual’s weekly mash-up of health and safety-related regulatory news…MORE

Workers’ comp study looks at California’s reforms
Large increases in office visit fee schedule rates under SB 863 will likely lead to substantial increases in prices paid in California, as the reforms intended.  However, the reimbursement rule change regarding reports, record review, and consultation codes may moderate the potential increase in payments, according to a recent study released by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute…MORE

Consequences of failing to report & respond to work injuries
Even for the best employers following workplace safety guidelines, accidents happen. When they do, it is important to follow recognized procedures when responding to work injuries. Failure to properly report and respond to the injury can have significant adverse consequences…MORE

Links to and from this blog do not reflect any affiliation between Texas Mutual Insurance Company and third parties, and are not an endorsement by Texas Mutual Insurance Company of the linked sites (or their owners or operators) or of any content located there. Texas Mutual Insurance Company does not vouch for the availability or accuracy of any information contained on linked sites. Read more of this post

Accountability Saves Lives

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

Executives love clichés. In annual reports, they express shock that another year is in the books. In marketing materials, they boast of their organizations’ commitment to going the extra mile, thinking outside the box and delivering maximum return on investment.

Too often, they often leave their audiences scratching their heads and looking for the value add in their latest product or service.

Corporate-speak doesn’t fly in the oil field. There are no SVPS of sustainability and corporate responsibility here. If you want to deliver a message to these tool pushers, rough necks and derrick men, you better speak in plain language. It’s a language Larry Homen is fluent in.

Raul Vega (right) of Standard Energy reviews the job safety analysis with Texas Mutual's Larry Homen during a recent visit to an oil well outside Lubbock.

During his lunch break, Raul Vega (right) of Standard Energy reviews the job hazard analysis (JHA) with Texas Mutual’s Larry Homen during a recent visit to an oil well outside Lubbock. Click on the photo for more information about JHAs.

Larry spent years as a welder in the oil field, narrowly escaping serious injuries more times than he cares to remember. He learned valuable lessons during that time, and he devoted the rest of his life to sharing those lessons with anyone who will listen.

Today, Larry is a certified safety professional with a degree in engineering technology. His “office” is a four-door Chevy Impala he uses to visit employers across West Texas, helping them make their workplaces safer. Larry leans on his field experience to deliver lessons that hit home with his audience. Take a recent visit to an oil well near Lubbock, for example.

After putting on his hard hat, boots, goggles and fire-retardant clothing, Larry reviewed and signed the job safety analysis with the foreman of a four-man crew employed by Standard Energy. He then launched into a story about an accident he heard about at another company.

“The derrick man had unhooked his lanyard so he could sit on the monkey board and eat his lunch,” explained Larry. “Afterward, he forgot to reconnect the lanyard. He fell 65 feet and suffered multiple injuries. Who was responsible for that accident?”

Of course, we are all accountable for our own safety on the job site. Without missing a beat, however, the foreman answered that the operator was partially to blame, as well. He should have checked to make sure his co-worker reconnected the lanyard.

“Excellent response,” said Larry. “Call it safety culture, behavior-based safety or whatever other buzz term you want. It comes down to y’all watching each other’s backs out here.”

No need for translation. Larry is talking about accountability.

In companies that have strong accountability, employees understand that they are not only responsible for their own safety but also for their co-workers’ safety. The common goal is for everyone to go home safely at the end of the day.

How’s that for a synergistic partnership?

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Standard Energy in Lubbock has built a strong culture of safety accountability. Case in point: The company’s employees make sure everyone who visits the job site, including technical writers who have never donned a hard hat, wears the required personal protective equipment.

Like anything worth striving for, accountability doesn’t take root overnight. Before it can embed itself into a company’s culture, management has to make it clear that safety is a core business process. In other words, safety has to be a value, not a priority.

“Priorities change,” explained Larry, “but values are constant. They never get compromised in the name of production.”

Larry’s experience has taught him that accountability is a cornerstone of any successful safety program. Accountability inspires employees to take ownership of the program. It facilitates continuous improvement to meet changing work conditions. Whether you spend your days in an office or the oil patch, accountability saves lives.

A note about this post
I recently had the opportunity to spend two days riding along with Larry Homen, a senior safety services consultant at Texas Mutual. Our travels took us to a construction site, an oil well, a power line job and multiple other job sites in and around Lubbock. I learned a lot from Larry, and I pared it down to three core principles that I shared on this blog. Don’t miss the previous installments in this series, and stay tuned for more tales from the field:

About the author
David Wylie is the senior technical writer at Texas Mutual Insurance Company. He works closely with Texas Mutual’s safety professionals to teach employers and their employees how to prevent workplace accidents and their associated costs. David holds the OSHA 10-hour general safety certification and a degree in journalism from Southwest Texas State University.

Links to and from this blog do not reflect any affiliation between Texas Mutual Insurance Company and third parties, and are not an endorsement by Texas Mutual Insurance Company of the linked sites (or their owners or operators) or of any content located there. Texas Mutual Insurance Company does not vouch for the availability or accuracy of any information contained on linked sites. Read more of this post

This Week in Comp, October 13 – 17

This Week in Comp provides an overview of workers’ compensation news from across the country.

Ohio man fakes workplace injury, employer discovers it on security video
The employer’s security video revealed that the employee  stomped a hole in a wooden floor the night before he said he was injured and on the following day, lowered his foot into the floor and laid down on the platform…MORE

Click the image above for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention podcast on driving safety.

Click the image above for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention podcast on driving safety.

Ebola: Call for preparedness
At this time, Ebola is not a major workplace health hazard for most workplaces in the United States. Nevertheless, being prepared for any infectious disease event should be a priority for every employer…MORE

Test your driving IQ in the Oct. edition of TDI’s newsletter
The Oct. edition of “Safety and Health Update” includes a short quiz on driving laws, eye safety tips and the benefits of return-to-work…MORE 

Study compares medical costs across 16 states, including Texas 
The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute study provides a baseline of current medical costs and trends for policymakers and other stakeholders by documenting how medical payments per claim and their cost components compare over time with other states….MORE

OSHA releases Oct. 15 edition of QuickTakes
The edition features OSHA alliances with the Association of Energy Service Companies and the Federal Communications Commission. The alliances’ goal is to reduce workplace injuries among cell phone tower and oil field workers, respectively…MORE

Regulatory roundup
Texas Mutual’s weekly mash-up of health and safety-related regulatory news…MORE

OSHA: proposed fines up, inspections down for FY 2014
OSHA initiated 30,679 inspections and cited 55,163 alleged violations during the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, compared to 39,228 inspections and 78,196 alleged violations in FY 2013…MORE

Links to and from this blog do not reflect any affiliation between Texas Mutual Insurance Company and third parties, and are not an endorsement by Texas Mutual Insurance Company of the linked sites (or their owners or operators) or of any content located there. Texas Mutual Insurance Company does not vouch for the availability or accuracy of any information contained on linked sites. Read more of this post

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