Keeping employees healthy and safe in the workplace should be a top priority for all employers.
After all, employee well-being is vital to the success of a company. While the COVID-19 pandemic has put worker health and safety in the spotlight, there are still health and safety hazards facing employees that must be addressed.
Finding the best way to protect your team can be a challenging problem; one that many business leaders often don’t fully understand. That lack of knowledge can lead to implementing the wrong types of quick solutions and inadvertently cause an even more unsafe environment. Occupational health is the practice of promoting and maintaining the highest degree of employee health and safety, which is vital for developing a positive company culture and avoiding life-threatening situations.
SAFER IS ALWAYS BETTER
There are many benefits to prioritizing a robust occupational health program. A quick look at the numbers show:
• Every year, 2.8 million workers are injured on the job and more than 5,000 suffer work-related fatalities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
• For every 100 employees, 3.4 filed workers’ compensation claims. While the costs vary by state, these claims average about $870 in weekly benefits, and employers take on some of those costs through private insurance premiums.
Occupational health strategies may differ by industry, but the main goal is the same — protect and prioritize employee health and safety in the workplace.
For industries with high-risk factors, such as physical dangers or falling, slipping, or tripping hazards, safety can be a big problem. Reducing those dangers can lead to saving money and promoting a stronger relationship between the employer and employee. According to an OSHA training, depending on the nature of the injury or illness, it can cost an employer anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 in immediate costs, and higher insurance premiums can rise up to $40,000.
Those costs include:
• Loss of production time by the injured employee and their supervisors.
• Added time for cleanup and startup of operations.
• Time spent hiring and training a replacement worker in the interim.
• Any potential property damage repairs or replacement of damaged equipment.
• Compensation and wages for the injured employee.
• Potential decrease in team morale and lower efficiency.
• OSHA penalties.
PREVENTION IS KEY
Occupational health is often viewed as “fixing” a work-related injury or illness. When an employee is injured, they are often sent for medical treatment and quickly put back to work.
However, being mainly reactive is not the right approach. Providing proactive care is a much more cost-effective intervention. While there is no way to completely prevent workplace injuries from occurring, particularly in physically demanding or potentially dangerous professions, there are steps a company can take to help create a safer environment.
If an employer is unaware of apparent or underlying safety hazards, existing solutions will not help to solve potential problems. It is the employer’s responsibility to understand the dangers.
For example, when a hotel housekeeper suffers from chronic lower back pain or a machine operator experiences repetitive shoulder injuries, employers should recognize these recurring problems as indicators that there may be underlying causes related to safety. Whatever the ailment, being proactive and recognizing the safety issues that may be causing these medical conditions can be the key to addressing them and thus, saving money.
Next, address the problem by asking the question: “Why is this injury continuing to occur?” It may seem like a simple question but finding the root cause needs appropriate investigation. This could include observing an employee and analyzing potential safety and health hazards while working. This process can take time as there is usually a need to look at multiple employees over the course of weeks to identify the potential hazards.
Once the problem and the cause have been found, a solution can be devised to eliminate or mitigate the potential for injury. This could be a new procedure to get work done more safely or limiting the amount of time a certain job function takes, or even rotating the employees that handle certain tasks so repetitive injuries can be decreased.
Beyond physical injuries, it is also important to include proactive health care into the mix, which has certainly been brought into the spotlight by the pandemic and has stressed to employers the importance of preventing contagious disease exposure. For example, offering flu shots to employees as an occupational health service during the start of the flu season could cut absences dramatically, thereby causing fewer interruptions in production.
Bottom line: offering preventative health care should be every employer’s goal. Preventing injuries or illnesses will always be a good practice that can lead to fewer expenses, improved efficiencies and higher profitability for an organization.
Dr. Letitia Heshmat is the founder and president of Work Health Solutions, providers of concierge-style occupational medicine for large-scale employers nationwide with a newly opened Near-Site clinic in Las Vegas. She has nearly two decades of health care industry experience and previously served as director of the occupational health clinic at Stanford University.