Today’s occupational health is not your grandfather’s occupational health.
Occupational health was established more than a century ago to address employee wellbeing and safety in the workplace. Massachusetts passed the nation’s first safety and health legislation in 1877 to regulate safety in factories. Just over 20 years later, nine states had similar regulations in place. In 1893, Congress passed the Safety Appliance Act, which was the first federal law to require safety equipment in the workplace.
Over the years, new rules and regulations were enacted to improve worker health and safety. In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was founded so that no worker should have to choose between their life and their job.
To maintain healthy populations and mitigate injuries, employers have traditionally invested in an onsite health model that focused on injury prevention and maintaining a healthy workforce. Today, as employers’ look to address rising costs and a fragmented system, occupational health is undergoing a shift. Onsite occupational health services are being fully integrated with organizations’ benefits strategies and corporate culture, creating new opportunities to enhance workplace health.
What is occupational health?
Simply defined, occupational health is an application of care focused on the health and safety of a specific workforce. It is a subcategory of environmental health, which focuses on environments that impact individuals or populations. For nearly 50 years, the combined effort of OSHA, employers, workers, unions and health and safety professionals have significantly improved workplace safety. Work-related injuries and deaths have decreased more than 65 percent, and the rate of reported serious workplace injuries and illnesses has also dropped from roughly 11 per 100 workers in 1972 to nearly three per 100 workers in 2016.
But a personalized approach to occupational health is a driving force behind healthy employees. A comprehensive program tailored to the employer population helps address risk factors and unfavorable health conditions to positively influence the work environment, employee behavior change and overall company culture.
Occupational health is a collaborative effort between the employer and the clinical team. It prioritizes workplace health and safety, focusing on preventing and responding to work-related injuries and illnesses. Occupational health providers may also respond to episodic and urgent care needs at work, assist with chronic disease management, and more, in order to build trust and increase productivity with members.
How does occupational health deliver value?
Whether you have 50 employees or 5,000, ignoring unhealthy behaviors and unsafe conditions has negative ramifications. Personalized occupational health programs fully integrated into an employer’s benefits strategy can help address costs, productivity and safety and lead to healthy employees. To see the greatest value from an occupational health program, you need aligned incentives:
Workplace safety issues and on-the-job injuries can create financial strain on organizations managing tight healthcare budgets. Employers have to take into consideration direct costs, such as medical care, equipment and safety programs, and indirect costs, such as fines, employee retention, and reduced productivity. Occupational health programs create cost savings by taking a preventive approach to health and wellness.
Addressing lost time
An on-the-job injury or lingering health condition often results in low quality work or missed workdays. In 2018 alone, presenteeism, which means working while sick or injured, cost employers $150 billion. Absenteeism cost employers nearly $226 billion. An occupational health nurse can help get an injured employee back to the jobsite safely and more rapidly, boosting productivity. By having programs in place that educate employees on safety protocols and promote prevention, employers can increase productivity and reduce costs.
There were approximately 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most common injuries are strains or sprains, soreness or pain, or cuts/lacerations. Many of these injuries are preventable with an occupational health program in place. For example, an occupational health nurse may spot poor employee health during a surveillance exam and advocate for a less strenuous role. Or he or she may notice equipment is not ergonomically friendly, which could lead to injury.
By fully utilizing an occupational health service, employers can impact the health of their populations, address safety issues, and lower costs. Integrating occupational health services into your corporate benefits strategy and organization culture is the key to success.
Premise Health has been the leader in onsite occupational health delivery for the past 50 years. For our next occupational health blog, we’ll outline the evolving role of the occupational health nurse. Learn more about our approach to creating safer and healthier workplaces, or get in touch with us.