Safety 2008: NIOSHs Howard: Bring Value to Business Through Wellness Initiatives

At Safety 2008, the American Society of Safety Engineers’ annual professional development conference and exhibition held this week in Las Vegas, NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard discussed his agency’s WorkLife Initiative and how safety professionals can bring value to the business by taking on wellness efforts in the workplace.

Howard said the purpose of the WorkLife Initiative is to sustain and improve worker health through better work-based programs, policies and practices. The WorkLife Initiative envisions workplaces that are free of recognized hazards, with health-promoting and sustaining policies, programs and practices; and employees with ready access to effective programs and services that protect their health, safety and wellbeing.

“The initiative places the emphasis on workers as the most important aspect of any enterprise,” Howard told attendees.

Howard revealed that employers spend about 3 cents on the dollar per employee to cover costs associated with workers’ compensation claims, but they spend about 53 cents on the dollar for employees’ healthcare costs.

“Are you going to go to your employer and say, ‘I know how to help you with that 3 cents per dollar but I don’t know what to do about the 53 cents a dollar.’ That’s not enough,” said Howard. “This is a bigger job for you than you have.”

He suggested viewing employees and employment holistically, not just in terms of the workplace. Obesity, smoking, high blood pressure: all of these things impact employee health and while they are not caused by workplace conditions, they do impact workplace safety and production.

“There is a clause in the OSH Act,” said Howard. “It says, ‘Safeguard the nation’s resource.’ That means employees.”

Taking a larger view of wellness and work life “means job enlargement for all of us, the opportunity to add new talents,” Howard said.

“Margins are narrow in business. Say to employers, we’re here to help you expand those margins and get a little ahead.”

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