Magazine article Occupational Hazards

A New Definition for Occupational Health: A Leading Physician Says Occupational Health Can Be a More Effective Partner in the Battle against Rising Health Care Costs

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

A New Definition for Occupational Health: A Leading Physician Says Occupational Health Can Be a More Effective Partner in the Battle against Rising Health Care Costs

Article excerpt

Many Americans will agree that we have the best health care in the world, but we are paying dearly for it. Last year, the United States spent $1.7 trillion on health care, or $5,805 per person, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. As employers are squeezed by double-digit increases in health insurance premiums, they are passing along the costs to employees through increased premiums and higher out-of-pocket fees, or dropping health insurance coverage entirely.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In the workplace, occupational health traditionally has been viewed as dealing strictly with injuries and illnesses arising from the job--carpal tunnel syndrome caused by word processing or fractured wrists from falling on slippery floors. Yet, a much larger portion of employers' health care costs stem in some way from employees' lifestyles and heredity.

That is why Dr. William Wanago, corporate medical director for Comprehensive Health Services Inc., a national provider of occupational health services, advocates a new definition of occupational health that encompasses any medical condition or health problem that affects a workers' ability to perform their job, even if it is not caused by the work itself. Wanago wants companies to continue investing in good safety programs in order to prevent on-the-job injuries and illnesses, but he wants them to increase their health promotion efforts. They should establish a way, he said, to "keep healthy people healthy, reduce the risk factors in those who may be at high risk for developing significant illness or disease in the foreseeable future and assist those who have already developed illnesses to manage them more effectively."

Baseline and Beyond

In Wanago's view, this effort starts with a preplacement examination that determines an individual's functional capacity to perform a given job and establishes a baseline against which to measure future changes in health status. Periodic health risk appraisals provide continuing monitoring of health, while medical surveillance programs monitor employees who may be exposed to certain on-the-job risks. Wellness and health promotion programs seek to educate employees about good health practices and to help them deal with common health risks such as smoking, obesity or high blood pressure.

This broader approach to occupational health is not just for Fortune 500 companies, Wanago noted. After all, the 5.8 million companies with 200 or less employees employ half of the nation's work force. In fact, said Wanago, employee health problems can have a greater impact on these smaller employers precisely because they have a smaller work force. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.