Americans spend about half of their waking hours at work, so it’s no surprise that your workplace affects your health. Of course, there are other social determinants of health — economic stability, education, neighborhood, education, access to health care and health literacy all play a role.
But given the time employees dedicate to work, there’s a particularly strong link between employment and health. Employers provide and maintain the physical environment in which their staffs spend their days. Here’s how to cultivate a safe and healthy environment that improves outcomes, reduces injuries and ultimately lowers costs.
The Relationship Between Employment and Health
A steady job in a safe work environment gives employees critical health insurance coverage, as well as the ability to buy healthy food, afford child care services and access quality education for their children — all of which improve health outcomes.
On the other side of this coin, evidence reveals a link between unemployment and poorer health outcomes. Job loss and unemployment have been associated with loss of health care coverage, higher stress and blood pressure, unhealthy coping behaviors and depression. People with lower incomes are also less likely to get preventive care meant to keep them healthy.
However, having a job is only part of the equation. A safe physical work environment is just as important. Employers should strive to create a safe workplace that helps prevent some of the nearly 3 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses that occur each year.
Recognizing Vulnerable Populations
Certain types of workers have jobs that carry a higher risk of injury or exposure to illness. These include people working in air transportation, nursing facilities, trucking services, hospitals, retail stores and restaurants, and those who work with motorized vehicles and equipment. Generally speaking, people with sedentary jobs are more likely to develop obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease, while those with physically demanding jobs more often risk physical strain and injury.
How Employers Can Help
Employers have an opportunity to promote employee health. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Create a safe physical environment. Your office might house some hidden workplace hazards. Aim to avoid these common dangers, and keep in mind that training employees on workplace safety is required by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Creating a safe environment may mean ensuring adequate ventilation and temperature control to prevent aggravating any employees’ allergies or asthma. Prohibit lead, pesticides, aerosols, ammonia, asbestos and other hazardous products and materials. Provide bottles of hand sanitizer outside conference rooms and around other areas where people usually gather.
Incorporate new technologies and ergonomic tools. Technology is constantly evolving, and there are some high-tech devices and products that may be able to prevent injuries — such as arm, back and shoulder pain and other musculoskeletal disorders — and keep workers safe.
Institute a flexible sick policy. Be generous with your paid sick time offerings so that employees can stay home when they need to. No one wants to work in an office where everyone’s hacking up a lung, so also allow employees who are sick to work from home, if possible, to prevent the spread of illness.
Offer comprehensive health coverage and employee health education. Beyond keeping employees safe, a workplace can actually help them become healthier. In your benefits offerings, include a health plan that promotes preventive health and covers services such as smoking cessation and nutritional counseling. Also consider whether your workforce would benefit from a strong wellness program, or possibly just a refresh of your current program. Even if you don’t anticipate introducing a full-fledged program or health initiative, find another way to give employees access to the tools and information they need to improve their health.
Workplace safety benefits employers and employees alike. By focusing on the link between employment and health, employers can improve outcomes, reduce absenteeism and lower overall health care costs.
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