Contributed by the Law Offices of Richard A. Jaffe, LLC
Work injuries are not just the result of one-time accidents. Worker’s compensation coverage also covers medical conditions which are related to the job. The American Journal of Epidemiology reports on a study which found that workers in occupations which involved predominantly standing were approximately twice as likely to develop heart disease as workers whose occupations involved predominantly sitting. The risk of heart disease was, in fact, even greater for standing occupations than it was for daily smokers.
So what can employees and employers do to help prevent heart disease among workers? Work-related heart disease is, in fact, such a well-documented problem that the American Heart Association has researched and developed a comprehensive policy statement on its recommendations for workplace heart disease prevention. The policy covers many areas:
(1) Wellness Programs
Employer wellness programs should target specific goals, such as: the cessation and prevention of tobacco use; regular physical activity; stress reduction and management; early detection and screening of cardiac symptoms; weight management; nutrition; and disease management. Employers are encouraged to make these programs readily-available to employees, as by offering on-site medical checks. Work sites should have automated external defibrillators and offer employee training on their proper use.
(2) Environmental Modifications
The social, physical, and logistical environment of the workplace should all be conducive recommended wellness programs and behaviors. These environments should both encourage healthy, recommended behaviors and minimize heart risks in the working environment.
(3) Regulations and Policy Changes
At the most basic level, employers must ensure that they are adhering to all workplace safety regulations. Employers should also carefully research and monitor their wellness programs the implement to ensure that the greatest number of employees are reached. Healthy lifestyle incentives (such as wellness credits and financial incentives) should be provided directly to the employee, and not attached to healthcare premiums or health status.
(4) Programs for Vulnerable and Special Populations
Wellness programs must address the needs of all employees - regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic class, cultural heritage, job responsibilities, or intellectual capacity. Programs should be all-inclusive. Supplemental programs may be necessary to engage populations which are typically underserved or economically challenged. Logistical flexibility must be incorporated into such programs to account for child care, elder care, telecommuting, and other issues of work and family life balance. Employers should also investigate methods of engaging those employees at the highest risk of heart disease.
The Financial Benefits of Wellness Programs to Employers
While many employers may hesitate to incur the expense of a wellness program, it is important to realize that such programs also have financial benefits which provide a return on investment. Wellness programs reduce absences and decreased productivity in the workplace. Many employers absorb these expenses without realizing the cost. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also estimates that tobacco use, specifically, costs American businesses an estimated $92 billion every year in increased health care costs, decreased productivity, and secondhand smoke exposure to coworkers and clients.