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September 08, 2017
The more you know, the better you can protect

Every day your e-mail, news, and Twitter feeds offer a dizzying array of safety and health content. All of it vies for your attention with the countless meetings, calls, audits, and reports that demand your time. The Compliance Report periodically assists by identifying relevant resources, then presenting a summary of the information, findings, and conclusions.

This article offers a digest of four resources: a new CDC Workplace Health Resource Center; a report that recommends risk competence over compliance; information about changing priorities in workplace wellness; and the latest on construction struck-by deaths.

CDC Resource Center: Credible Tools for Your Unique Needs

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched a new webpage that features resources to create a healthy work environment. The CDC describes the offerings as “credible tools and step-by-step resources employers can use to tailor a health promotion program to their unique workplace needs.”

The page offers resources that include:

  • Evidence-based Worksite Health Assessment Tools for Effective Health Improvement Plans, a webinar that presents a variety of CDC health assessment tools;
  • A list of policy and environmental changes that can be made at worksites to support employee blood pressure management;
  • Information on program measurement and evaluation; and
  • A document that answers questions about incentives by providing evidence-based guidance on this controversial topic.

Another offering on the new CDC site is an employer guide titled Physical Activity in the Workplace. It was prepared by the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at Johns Hopkins University. The premise of the guide is that employees who are physically active have lower healthcare costs, require less sick leave, and are more productive on the job.

Research shows that employees who get at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week miss more than 4 fewer days on average than other workers. The CDC says physical inactivity was responsible for more than 11 percent of healthcare expenditures from 2006 to 2011. Encouraging and supporting physical activity can also help attract and retain high-quality employees, according to the CDC.

The report cites a number of business benefits of physical activity programs:

  • General Motors saw a decline in healthcare costs of about $250 per year for employees who exercised 1 to 2 times per week and for those who exercised 3 or more times per week. That savings rose to $450 per year for employees who were obese.
  • American Cast Iron Pipe Company introduced its WellBody Program, a comprehensive wellness support initiative, in the 1990s. It provides access to an on-site fitness center, health coaching, and exercise instruction. The company estimates a return on investment of $1.70 for every dollar spent.
  • A review of 28 studies examining physical activity in the workplace found that comprehensive programs with physical activity components resulted in benefits that include less absenteeism and sick time and solid improvements in health outcomes.

Action steps

In addition to citing research, the CDC gets practical in this document by suggesting these action steps for increasing workers’ physical health.

  • Build a culture of health. In organizations with a culture of health, employees are supported in their efforts to be physically active through an “unwritten law.” It means, for example, being able to fit activity into the workday without asking permission from a supervisor. The first step for an employer that wishes to launch a health initiative should not be to build a gym and hire trainers but, rather, to hire an organizational expert to advise the company on creating a health-promoting culture.
  • Get leaders on board. Not just those at the top; middle managers should also support workplace wellness and personally participate.
  • Develop partnerships and social support. Small businesses that lack the funds for gyms and trails should partner with community groups. Social support programs like walking clubs, physical activity contracts, and group exercise activities promote physical activity as well as friendship and support.
  • Tailor programming to employee needs and interests. New technologies like wearables and fitness apps may provide the extra push that less active employees need, while already active employees may simply need peer support.
  • Target multiple factors. Maximize success by addressing multiple risk factors as well as the need for movement. Programs should be socially and economically rewarding and relevant and should connect employees with the organizational culture. Avoid the temptation to tackle every issue at once.
  • Boost engagement by considering new technology. While technology has great potential for reducing sedentary lifestyles, many of the new apps are untested, and their effects on behavior are not fully understood. Fully evaluate new strategies before introducing them.
  • Set realistic goals and monitor progress. Monitoring and evaluation help employers identify and correct weaknesses, leading to better programs and healthier employees. Set reasonable goals, for example “80% of managers should visibly participate in or strongly advocate for a health promotion within the first year.”

Haley & Aldrich: Get Real About Risk

The engineering and environmental consulting firm Haley & Aldrich has produced a new report that suggests focusing on compliance can give safety-minded employers a false sense of security. Instead, the firm recommends a shift in focus to risk competence—identifying risk by taking a hard look at what’s really going on in your facilities.

The full name of the report is Stop Talking About Safety Culture and Get Real About Risk. It dispels safety myths, addresses problems with a safety-compliance culture, and identifies strategies companies can take to reduce incidents in the workplace. Danyle Hepler, an associate scientist with Haley & Aldrich and the author of the report, offers a powerful example to make the point that complying with checklists isn’t enough. “On the day the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 people, ironically executives were at the facility to celebrate the company’s seventh year without an incident. The company’s incident-free track record created the false presumption of safety, which is often counterproductive to preventing future incidents.”

Hepler believes the term “safety culture” has become overused and, as a result, has lost meaning. Within organizations, employees have differing perceptions of culture and communications. And while checking off “safety boxes” while focusing on lagging indicators may get reasonable results, the Haley & Aldrich report says, “Without a realistic synchronized risk picture at all levels, a company’s safety culture can look great on paper while operating standards continue to slip, and safety risks continue to mount.” Hepler adds that the only way to successfully mitigate risk is to measure risk tolerance and build a culture around it.

The report offers five ways to create that risk-competent culture.

  1. Stress that safety is everyone's job and that everyone needs to understand risk. Employees at all levels need to feel empowered and committed to create a safe workplace. This requires creating an environment where personnel can feel comfortable reporting potential safety problems and job- or task-related risk. Near-miss incidents should be openly discussed.
  1. Establish that safety is as important as performance. Too often, employees feel pressure to cut corners to meet performance goals. In addition to the personal and property losses that can result, ignoring safety rules can severely impact a company’s reputation and bottom line. Top management should make it clear that safety is no less important than production and quality, and that understanding and mitigating risks associated with production are an expected part of everyone’s job.
  1. Create a shared definition of risk. Since individuals have different perceptions of safe operations, organizations need to clearly articulate their risk tolerance and ensure that their view is shared and understood organizationwide.
  1. Measure what is, not what should be. Rather than measure risk based on standard work practices, focus on the risk associated with actual day-to-day tasks, which may deviate from standard processes. Identify gaps in work as imagined, rather than work that is completed, to uncover hidden risks.
  1. Use the data. Collect as much data as possible on what’s really going on in your organization, including identifying safety gaps and determining how to close them. Conduct an in-depth analysis to get an accurate picture, and be sure to consider the severity of incidents. Management should determine how the data will be measured to further define risk parameters and tolerance, and prioritize those risks.

The report also recommends that employers create “dynamic, scheduled measuring systems” that fit their unique environment. These systems should:

  • Analyze, question, and understand current safety data.
  • Define parameters.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Prioritize and schedule each control.
  • Help the organization revise and adjust.

Finally, employers are urged to stay proactive about risk, even when recordable incident numbers appear positive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been reporting a decline in nonfatal incidents. While at face value the numbers seem like a positive indication, this report suggests that “positive-leaning injury figures can make the fact that the number of workplace fatalities grows each year.”

For example, Haley & Aldrich points to fatalities associated with chemical safety breaches. What may appear to be insignificant discrepancies in safety violations or incident reporting can have a “negative domino effect on safety throughout an entire plant.” This can lead to tragic and unnecessary fatalities.

Optum Health: Shifting Views of Wellness

The health services firm Optum Health has published its 8th annual “Wellness in the Workplace” study. It details how employers are changing their approach to employee well-being. The document reveals five key shifts that have come to light in recent years. According to Optum, “The uncertain future of the Affordable Care Act, combined with persistent employee healthcare gaps, has ignited a more deliberate approach to well-being at work….”

Shift #1: A broader value proposition for health and wellness
Organizations that embrace health and wellness increasingly believe that well-being is not just about physical health, although that remains a major focus. While the number of programs offered to employees has been about the same since 2014 (10, on average), fewer of them address physical health, while more focus on social, financial, and behavioral health.

Shift #2: A focus on emerging programs
The Optum research finds a significant shift in the past 3 years to what are known as emerging programs. Examples are initiatives that support healthcare access and navigation, healthy pregnancy, sleep health, and musculoskeletal or orthopedic programs. Thanks in part to technology, telemedicine services have also experienced significant gains. This distance-treatment strategy can increase healthcare access while helping employers and employees better manage costs.

Shift #3: Embracing of digital technology
Employers are using digital engagement strategies to communicate and implement health and wellness initiatives. Since 2014, the research shows a significant increase in the use of online competitions, activity-tracking devices, social networks, mobile apps, and mobile messaging to engage employees. Accessible technology, coupled with the popularity of competitive activities like walking challenges, can increase employee social interaction. That interaction is seen as an increasingly important part of physical health promotion.

Shift #4: Evolving incentive strategies
Optum finds use of incentives in wellness programs is at an all-time high, with 95 percent of respondents offering incentives to their employees. Recognizing the influential role of family members, 74 percent of employers also offer incentives to relatives. Nearly half the employers surveyed said they plan to expand the scope of their incentive strategies over the next few years. In 2016, health and wellness program participants could earn an average of $532 per year, up 17 percent since 2015. They’re cashing in by participating in biometric screenings, tobacco cessation, weight management, health risk assessments, and health and fitness challenges. Employers that reward wellness activities are also acknowledging employees for making progress toward identified health goals.

Shift #5: Investing in employee well-being
Incentives and programming are just part of a well-designed engagement strategy, which also requires comprehensive communications, knowledgeable staff, and leaders who support a culture of health. Optum says employers are committing to employee well-being by investing in health and wellness program budgets and staff. The survey found that 72 percent of organizations report employing a dedicated wellness staff member.

Employers are not only spending more (32 percent reported an increase) but also are shifting their allocations. For example, they are increasing spending in areas like communications, program evaluation, and changes to the work environment, such as offering healthier food and beverage options. While the primary goal of employer programs is to reduce healthcare costs and claims, they also expect their efforts to: 

  • Reduce employee health risks.
  • Offer competitive benefits to attract/retain talent.
  • Promote a more productive workforce.

Participating organizations are better gauging the success of their programs by looking at issues like program participation rates, employee feedback, and the impact on productivity, business performance, retention, and recruitment.

Center for Construction Research and Training: Struck-by Deaths

The leading cause of private sector worker deaths (excluding highway collisions) in the construction industry is falls, followed by death from being struck by an object, electrocution, and caught in/between something. According to the BLS, these causes, which OSHA calls the fatal four, were responsible for nearly 65 percent of construction worker deaths in 2015.

The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) has published new research on struck-by injuries and prevention in the construction industry. Among key findings:

  • From 2011 to 2015, 804 construction workers died from struck-by injuries. That’s more than in any other major industry. About half were struck by an object or equipment, and the rest were hit by a vehicle.
  • 51  percent of struck-by deaths were caused by falling objects or equipment.
  • 57% of struck-by vehicle deaths in construction occurred in work zones.
  • 96 percent of nonfatal struck-by injuries were from being struck by an object or equipment.
  • The risk of nonfatal struck-by injuries in construction is nearly double the risk of all industries combined.
  • Highway maintenance workers had the highest rate of struck-by fatalities, while helpers had the highest rate of nonfatal struck-by injuries.
  • Construction workers 65 years or older experienced the highest rate of struck-by fatalities, while workers under the age of 20 had the highest rate of nonfatal struck-by injuries.

CPWR concludes that struck-by injuries and deaths are preventable through training, personal protective equipment, engineering controls, safety protocols, and other solutions.

The report recommends specific prevention tactics for various types of struck-by incidents.
Struck by vehicles (including backovers and work-zone intrusions):

  • Backup cameras.
  • Backup alarm radar systems.
  • Backover prevention standards.
  • Internal traffic control plans.
  • Hard hats with illumination.
  • Hard hat mounted mirrors
  • High-visibility clothing.
  • Work-zone lighting systems.
  • Intrusion alarms.
  • Concrete/water-filled barriers.
  • Tapering of lane closures.
  • Police traffic enforcement in work zones.

Struck-by falling objects:

  • Hand tools tethered to a worker’s belt by lanyard.
  • Hard hats.
  • Pedestrian walkways or sidewalk sheds.
  • Toeboards, screens, debris nets, and guardrails on scaffolding.
  • Keeping a safe distance from suspended loads.
  • Proper material storage.
  • Not exceeding the load or lift capacity of equipment.
  • Barricades and posted warning signs for all dangerous areas.

Struck-by flying objects:

  • Workers trained on safe operation of power tools.
  • Inspect all tools before use.
  • Sequential triggers for nail guns.
  • Protective gear, like safety glasses, hard hats, and face shields.

Struck-by swinging or slipping object:

  • No one allowed under loads as they are being lifted.
  • All loads secured and lifted evenly to prevent slipping.
  • Inspect all equipment before use.
  • Operators trained and certified to operate equipment safely.
  • Extreme caution when approaching heavy equipment.
  • Highly visible reflective vests.
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