When American Cast Iron Pipe Co. (ACIPCO) began developing its wellness program in the early 1990s, the Birmingham, Ala.-based industrial-pipe manufacturer took a cue from a classic Rolling Stones song.
"We did a lot of research and assessments on what the employees want," Sherri Snow, wellness manager for the company, explained during a breakout session at the 2013 America's Safest Companies Conference in Atlanta. "We found that sometimes it's not about what the employees want. We need to make sure that we provide what they need."
With more than half of its 3,000 employees located in Alabama, South Carolina and Texas, Snow noted that ACIPCO faces the same challenges that many other employers in the South face: high tobacco use, and lifestyle-influenced health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. Consequently, tobacco-cessation classes, weight-loss sessions and lifestyle coaching are key components of ACIPCO's wellness program.
The cornerstone of the program, though, is ACIPCO's "Well-Body Club": a risk-stratification system that places employees in one of four "clubs" – Club 200, Club 50, Club 25 and Club 10 – based on the results of annual screenings for risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, body-fat percentage, glucose, flexibility and frequency of exercise. Club 200 is for the healthiest (lowest-risk) employees, while Club 10 is for the highest-risk employees. Employees receive cash incentives for participating.
In 2001, ACIPCO converted the cafeteria at its Birmingham campus into a 5,000-square-foot wellness center. The Eagan Center for Wellness – named after company founder John Eagan – includes strength-training and cardiovascular equipment, an aerobics studio, showers, offices as well as facilities for physical therapy.
Priming the Pump
ACIPCO has set a goal of 80 percent participation in its wellness program, Snow noted, because the company's research indicates that 80 percent "is the level at which we can best hope to make a positive impact" on health care costs.
ACIPCO has been able to consistently achieve that goal, according to Snow. But she and her staff – Snow, a full-time wellness assistant and one and a half FTE health coaches – have learned that they need to continually prime the pump to keep workers engaged in wellness.
"If we sit in our wellness facility and wait for them to come to us, they're not going to come," Snow said. "We get more participation by going to them. So that means going out into manufacturing with our hardhats and our safety glasses."
At times, that also has meant providing some extra motivation.
"When we first started the Well-Body Club, we went out and recruited employees at every safety meeting in every department in every unit and said, 'If you don't want to [participate], then you have to stay and sign something.' So we twisted their arm a little bit."
Their efforts have paid dividends. When ACIPCO launched the Well-Body Club in 1996, approximately 30 percent of the participants were in Club 10, the highest-risk category. Today, less than 10 percent of them are in Club 10, according to Snow. In 1996, only 15 percent of participants were in Club 200, the lowest-risk category; that number has jumped to 47 percent.
The migration from high-risk to low-risk categories has produced "some significant cost savings" for ACIPCO, according to Snow, and has had a positive impact on other metrics such as absenteeism. Over the past five years, employees in the low- to moderate-risk categories have averaged five and a half days of absenteeism, compared with an average of 13½ days for employees in the highest-risk group.
Creating a Healthy Environment
The foundation of the program's success isn't necessarily teaching people how to be healthier, Snow said. It's more about changing their environment.
"We all know that we have to exercise and eat healthy. But how many of us do it?" Snow asked. "It's not because we don't want to do it. But sometimes it's easier to do it if you're in a place where you can make healthy choices based on what's in the vending machine or in the cafeteria.
"We've probably had more people go through our tobacco-cessation program [after the company banned smoking inside the building]. So you can change the behavior, but you also have to counter that with a change in the environment."
Support from the C-suite has been critical to the program's success, Snow added.
"Leadership is very committed to providing a healthy and safe workplace," Snow said. "Without that commitment, I don't think we'd be able to have what we have today."
This is the first in a series on the wellness programs that were highlighted at the 2013 America's Safest Companies Conference.