Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Focusing on Health for High-Level Safety Performance: When It Comes to Improving Employee Safety and Health, the Sum Is Definitely Greater Than the Parts

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Focusing on Health for High-Level Safety Performance: When It Comes to Improving Employee Safety and Health, the Sum Is Definitely Greater Than the Parts

Article excerpt

Many safety professionals admit feeling frustrated trying to help others change their behavior in order to prevent life-threatening events. I've heard numerous pros wonder, "It's in their own best interests. Why won't they act safely?"

We are not alone. In "Change or Die," an article in the May 2005 FastCompany magazine, Dr. Edward Miller, dean of the medical school and CEO of the hospital at Johns Hopkins University, is quoted on a study of the 1.3 million people who undergo heart bypass surgery each year in the United States. Dr. Miller reports that about half the time, the bypass grafts "clog up in a few years." He attributes much of this circulatory recidivism to the 90 percent of patients who, after their "traumatic" and expensive ($100,000 or more) surgery, don't change the lifestyle that contributed to their illness. Evidently, for those who came close to their end, the fear of dying wasn't enough to scare them into changing their eating and other daily habits.

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The implications for safety professionals are staggering. While we've made significant strides in safety, many organizations have hit a plateau in preventing personal injuries. This could be due to many reasons--not knowing what replacement behaviors to try, thinking about but not changing habits, or not having the energy or motivation to make needed personal change. In addition, an aging work force, while a more experienced one, may be more prone to heart disease, hypertension, arthritis and diabetes, as well as musculo-skeletal cumulative trauma and other health concerns.

Organizations face constantly expanding health care costs. While many safety professionals have "health" in their title (EHS, SHE), their scope is usually limited to reducing exposures to chemicals, foreign objects or noise.

True, yearly company health fairs target lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, anti-smoking campaigns, avoiding substance abuse, getting gym-fit and reducing the above-mentioned exposures. They all are important, and events are usually well-attended. But it's too narrow a focus and too infrequent an exposure.

Recognize that health is not a separate concern, not something that only fits in the province of the medical or wellness departments; it strongly impacts workers' ability to perform safely. For example, it's easy to be distracted when working with a background level of continuous pain, operating sleep-deprived in zombie-like fashion or being anxious with personal health fears. In more than 20 years of training workers to prevent slips and falls, I've too often heard reports of someone tripping on a mat because they were just too fatigued to sufficiently raise their feet while walking.

The good news is safety professionals can effectively employ health to boost safety performance. Think of this as a win-win. It personally helps any organizational member, elevates safety results and raises your stock as a change agent who can creatively attack and help with a significant obstacle to overall organizational strength.

BEYOND THE HEALTH FAIR

How do you go beyond the traditional health fair topics? (Of course, each person is encouraged to get their physician's approval prior to invoking any lifestyle change.)

First, harness the power of breath. …

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