Despite there being a direct correlation between wellness and safety in a business setting, many organisations still perceive these two disciplines as separate functions, managed by different departments with different systems, budgets and KPI’s. However, when properly connected, effective wellness and safety programmes can yield significant results in terms of accident and injury figures, lost productivity and labour and insurance costs. Furthermore, employee engagement levels and product and service quality can feel the positive effects of interlinking such programmes.
However you view it, there is a critical connection between an organisation’s safety and wellness programmes, and if they are not yet, the powers that be should look towards their redesign and modification for an integrated approach to safety and wellness – across functions.
Each organisation employing people in jobs of a physical nature and/or in potentially hazardous conditions, is required to have an integrated safety policy. This must be communicated, trained, and in some organisations, rewarded by employers for learning about and conducting safe behaviours as part of one's daily work – which could be measured by, for example, reducing lost-time due to accidents and injuries.
Safety policies and programmes that are mandated by a regulatory body with laws specific to that country (HSE/OSHA/CCOHS* to name but a few) are generally overseen by safety or risk management professionals, who, in turn, have a responsibility of communicating said policies and procedures to employees and ensuring the contents laid out therein are adhered to. As such, the administration of these policies is ‘top-down’ - driven by governmental and organisational mandates.
Many organisations offer wellness programmes to promote healthy behaviours including:
- Healthy eating
- Regular exercise
- Seeing medical professionals, and acting on advice to manage risk and treat disease
While not mandated by the government, such programmes are to be highly recommended and are also promoted by health insurance companies as a means of reducing medical claims, with a resulting reduction in the cost of premiums for organisations which is an ideal result. Further benefits of employees who are healthy and well are to be witnessed in on-the-job motivation and engagement levels, as well as in reduced sickness absences. These Wellness programs are usually (but not always) managed by Human Resource professionals who encourage (voluntary) participation from employees in a ‘bottom-up’ manner.
Research has suggested that there are considerable correlations between the safety of workers and corporate health promotion – especially for jobs with repetitive tasks or those that are strenuous and necessitate being in good health and physical shape. For example:
- Obesity is a major contributor to back injuries as overweight people frequently have difficulty in using appropriate body mechanics in the moving and lifting of objects. Furthermore, one of the largest pieces of research to date on the subject (involving almost 800,000 people) found that, compared with those who remained sitting the least, people who remained sitting the longest had a:
112% higher risk of diabetes
147% higher occurrence of cardiovascular events
90% higher risk of death caused by cardiovascular events
49% higher risk of death from any cause
- Workplace stress and work-related illness are often linked, as stress is a contributory factor to high blood pressure, which can result in ill-judgement in decision-making, coupled with a higher error rate.
- Insufficient or inadequate sleep and fatigue also directly reduces concentration levels and the inherent ability to work safely – for those in physical and non-physical jobs.
As the above two fields differ so vastly in their approach, they have different objectives and assumptions as well as priorities, co-ordination between the two is not as common as we might like to think. Worryingly, a wide perception exists among leaders in OSH that employers could be shifting the burden for health and wellness away from management to individual workers – with a resulting shift in focus from environmental and organisational causes of ill-health and disease, to individual risk-taking.
Workplace absences cost the UK economy alone a whopping £18 bn in 2016 and with off-the-job safety injuries accounting for up to 25% of health care costs, is it time that wellness efforts address this at a corporate level?
There has been a significant shift in the labour market in recent years. With a decline in manufacturing and agricultural jobs and a huge rise in service sector jobs and employees facing redundancies, a lack of job security can in turn result in dissatisfaction, reduced engagement, poor health, and stress. New systems of work, increased job demands, a reliance on part-time labour and the rise of the ‘zero hour’ contract (to allow for adjustment to business cycle downturns) can also increase employee stress levels and the associated health risks, which all serve to reinforce the importance of understanding ‘stressors’ within an integrated wellness and safety programme.
Integrating Safety and Wellness Programs
From an insurance cost perspective, a company is continually at risk of loss due to health or safety-related issues; this can affect the employee’s family as well as the employee themselves in most cases. Ultimately, considering how to influence choice and therefore individual behaviour, should be of interest at an organisational level for return on investment and engagement benefits.
Safety and Wellness Incentives
Incentives have long played a part in involving and motivating employees to engage in safety. However, these have been misapplied in some cases - when rewarding for no accidents or injuries – and such incentive programmes have varied considerably in degrees of success. Similar incentive awards are beginning to be applied to health promotion. Research shows that an increasing number of employers are beginning to link incentives to sustainable actions and results.
Creating an Integrated Wellness and Safety Programme - Next Steps
- Assess - current programmes and/or policies to define what is and isn’t working in-line with best practice and industry standards.
- Create - a roadmap for streamlining communications. Use data gathered, senior leadership and employee participant surveys to highlight potential areas for improvement and ways to enable integration. Plan appropriate rewards/incentives, recognition and software platform to manage the system. Engage a consultant if necessary.
- Train - all new systems will require training and preparation at all levels within the organisation – particularly supervisory. Encourage buy-in and reinforce the need for involvement at a personal level.
- Communicate – formulate a plan allowing for year round communications of the policy to continuously engage employees.
- Incentivise - with ‘best-fit’ to employee demographics and psychographics with blended financial incentives (for cost reduction results), with tangible merchandise awards (for participating and taking the stated actions for health and safety).
- Recognise - continuously for participating and results to encourage intrinsic motivation (joy of participation and recognising results), which can lead to long term behaviour change.
- Analyse – on-going evaluation of all aspects of the policy to see engagement levels. Continue to evolve the policy to drive effectiveness, reduce costs, and deliver a return on investment.
*HSE - Health and Safety Executive
*OSHA - Occupational Safety and Health Administration
*CCOHS - Canadian Centre for Occupational Safety and Health
Sources and Further Reading:
- Workplace Absences Cost the UK Economy £18bn
- Workplace Absences - Infographic
- The NIOSH Total Worker Health™ Program: Seminal Research Papers 2012
- Green Beans & Ice Cream: The Remarkable Power of Positive Reinforcement, Bill Sims
- Go Mammoth Corporate Wellness
- Time to Change
- Sign the Organisational Pledge to End the Mental Health Stigma
- Astutis Chosen Charity for 2017, Mind