National Public Health Week 2013 – How Safe Is Your Workplace?
Perhaps nowhere does this year's theme of National Public Health Week - "Return On Investment" - resonate more clearly than in the workplace. It's the focus of health officials nationwide during day three of the week-long initiative. So how is the space where you earn your living?
Research within the past five years reveals occupational accident rates improving, but it does little to blunt the impact of deaths and injuries on the job.
"Deaths from unintentional work injuries declined 90 percent from 1933 to 1997," says Leslie Terjesen of the Ocean County Health Department, noting also that the rate among Hispanic workers rose three percent in the same span. And sometimes, she adds, accidents are completely preventable.
"In 2011, more than 4,600 workers died in the United States due to an injury on the job...in 2009, about 572,000 violent crimes such as rape, robbery and assault happened to people age 16 and older while at work," she relates.
Leslie says that the cost of obesity among full-time workers tops $73,000,000,000, including the total value of lost productivity and medical costs. Medical care, she continues, costs business owners about $3.27 for every dollar invested in wellness programs.
Start Small, Build Big
How can a business operator meet the challenge of a healthy workplace and still achieve savings? Start, says Leslie, with a solid foundation.
"Understand and follow all workplace safety regulations and best practices," she suggests, then create effective policies beyond base standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
"Educate your employees about workplace safety regulations. Train employees to recognize unsafe and unhealthy settings." She also recommends being prepared for multilingual training, depending on the type and location of business or contracted firm.
Adequate protective gear is another essential, "such as respiratory gear or hard hats," she adds. Be sure that the staff is empowered to monitor conditions. Conduct regular fire-safety and disaster drills.
Even simple steps such as hand-washing reminders in lavatories, healthy foods at catered meetings and workplace walking groups can equate to savings in the long run.
"Create a work environment in which workers feel comfortable reporting unsafe conditions or workplace abuse," says Leslie. "Put in place mechanisms for recognizing and addressing the potential for workplace violence."
The same principles apply when the workplace is home. "If you have...health care aides, nannies, or house cleaners, learn what it means to be a responsible employer."
Health Habits and Absenteeism
Smoke-free workplaces are increasingly common, and Leslie suggests that there's a viable financial basis for the trend. "People who smoke have a higher rate of absenteeism," she reasons. "If healthy lifestyles can begin at work, maybe [employees] can bring it to their own homes."
The Ocean County Health Department maintains a sizable list of recommendations and offers services to foster health and safety awareness. Visit the web page here.