Making the Case for the Financial Rewards of Safety and Health

Purdue Pharma Technologies has increased its environmental, health and safety (EHS) budget this year even though its sales are down, according to David Eherts, the company's EHS executive director. Included in the budget is almost $1 million to fund a new initiative: an integrated health and wellness program.

Eherts credits "Return on Health, Safety and Environmental Investments" (ROHSEI), a tool developed 8 years ago by Arthur Andersen and ORC Worldwide, with helping him to convince the chief financial officer of Purdue Pharma that EHS is a money-maker that must be supported, not an expense to be cut.

There are essentially four steps to the ROHSEI process, Eherts explained in an interview:

  • Identify the EHS opportunity.
  • Determine the unit costs of your company.
  • Factor in the costs of the EHS activity.
  • Determine the benefits.

"Once you fill in the information on the software, you press a button and it does all the macro-analysis," Eherts said. "My finance people are very impressed with the sophistication of the tool."

ORC Worldwide offers ROHSEI free of charge to anyone who completes its 2-day, $2,000 training course on how to use it, said Joanne Linhard, senior consultant at ORC. The tool was completely updated in 2002, and all such updates are also free, she added.

Eherts identified 14 EHS programs he sold to upper management through the use of ROHSEI. Examples he cited ranged from ergonomics to whether the company should offer onsite, primary, non-occupational healthcare.

Integrated health management pays dividends

Eherts grew interested in healthcare and wellness after employees complained to him that the company's doctors refused to treat non-occupational illnesses and injuries.

"We are self-insured, so we ended up paying for these doctor visits anyway," he said. By having the company doctors and nurses treat all cases, Purdue saved on medical costs and increased workers' productivity because employees did not need to spend 3 hours going and to and from doctors' offices.

"We ran data on this for 3 years and found that 63 percent of our workers would have gone to their own doctor anyway," Eherts said. And sometimes the company benefited even when a worker who wouldn't have seen a personal doctor went to the onsite clinic.

"In one such case a worker was diagnosed with melanoma, so we were able to treat that immediately and we otherwise would have missed it," Eherts said.

Integrated health management also helps to bring workers back to work more quickly after an injury because of the personal relationship established between the company's medical staff and employees. Using onsite clinics to handle non-occupational medical issues and disability management appear to be the "low-hanging" fruit in health and wellness programs.

"When was the last time a doctor called you at home and asked how you are doing?" Eherts asked. That's now standard procedure at Pharma. The result is that employees receive better treatment, feel more loyalty to the company and are quicker to get back to work.

"We say, 'The place is falling apart without you. We didn't realize how valuable you are to us, and we'll send you a taxi,'" Eherts said. "When people are treated like this, I'm convinced they get better faster."

(This is the second story in a two-part series. The first story, "Tying Safety to Financial Performance," appeared Feb. 9.)

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