Boost Safety and Productivity by Improving Worker Wellness

Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $225.8 billion each year. In addition, workers who are physically unwell or depressed or who are tired on the job for any reason (long shifts, poor health, lack of sleep) may put themselves and others at increased risk.

A robust safety and wellness program can encourage healthier habits, cut down on employee sick days and help keep your team functioning at peak performance. It may even reduce the costs of healthcare coverage and workers’ compensation.

The National Safety Council’s Campbell Institute interviewed nine of its member companies (including United Rentals) to study their best practices for developing such programs. Their recommendations are included in the 2017 report Workplace Wellbeing: Bridging Safety and Health.

Here are some ideas based on their findings for developing your own wellness program:

  1. Build a culture of health and safety awareness. Explain to your workers the role that staying healthy plays in keeping safe on the jobsite.
  2. Include wellness messages in safety newsletters and toolbox talks. Talk about ergonomics, the importance of stretching before starting work or during breaks, etc.
  3. Motivate employees with incentives. Offer discounts on health insurance premiums for non-smokers, or offer a gift card for employees who get an annual physical.
  4. Hold a wellness event in which employees can get flu shots, information about keeping healthy and screenings for high blood pressure, depression and other problems.
  5. Create some fun wellness competitions. Offer rewards for the person who can log the most steps in a month. Have a contest to see who can keep extra pounds off during the holidays. Get employees to buy into the program by asking them to help design it.
  6.  Offer free or reduced-cost smoking cessation or weight loss programs.
  7. Provide healthy food choices in vending machines or cafeterias.
  8. Enroll workers in training that helps promote healthy practices. For example, United Rentals’ United Academy offers a Meta-Posture Program that focuses on stretching and postural strengthening.
  9. Emphasize that wellness is everyone’s concern by getting management to take an active role in the wellness efforts. At United Rentals, CEO Michael Kneeland promised to donate $25,000 to the employee-funded United Compassion Fund, which helps colleagues in need, if he didn’t make good on his pledge to lose 25 pounds.

Any effective culture of safety must encompass worker wellbeing. While you might not see the benefits of a safety and wellness program overnight, a consistent effort to improve your employees’ health will pay a return on investment over time and even increase morale. Who knows — it could make the difference between a worker leaving for another company and staying with yours.

 

Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.