Keeping Your Employees Healthy
Jean Melnikoff, VP of human resources at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, offers these ways to keep your workforce healthy and productive
PART 1: WHY
The familiar statement, “Our people are our greatest asset,” is especially true today because finding new employees is expensive and difficult amid low unemployment. Hawai‘i’s business leaders need to invest more in the health of their existing employees because that:
- Increases attendance, performance and retention
- Reduces work-related illness and long-term costs associated with chronic health problems
- Reduces injuries, workers’ compensation claims and the likelihood of permanent disability
- Contributes to a company culture where workers feel valued and respected, a top reason for employee longevity and engagement.
PART 2: HOW
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that in 2017, work-related musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, accounted for 32 percent of days-away-from-work cases in private industry. Here’s how to prevent work-related MSDs:
- Communicate the importance of this initiative at all levels. Let management know that your company is committed. Ask them to define clear goals and objectives for creating an ergonomically supportive workplace, and assign responsibilities to designated staff members. Invite your workers to identify hazards in their workplaces, suggest solutions, and implement and evaluate the effectiveness of the programs you put in place.
- Encourage early reporting of MSD symptoms. Early reporting by employees can prevent the progression of symptoms, the development of serious injuries and subsequent lost-time claims.
- Reduce fatigue. The most powerful preventive action you can take against employee MSDs is to encourage breaks and keep work within a reasonable time window. Encouraging employees to rest may sound counterintuitive, but a short break can lead to renewed productivity. A study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that computer workers who take four five-minute breaks in addition to their normal work routines have significantly reduced discomfort and eye strain, while experiencing no reduction in output.
- Consider job enlargement or rotation. Not only does this allow your employees to gain new skills and insights, it also keeps them from doing repetitive tasks that can cause MSDs. Job enlargement can also expand an employee’s responsibilities, while reducing monotony and boredom.
- Provide training and equipment. Employee and manager training are crucial to improving ergonomic wellness. Equipment designed to support necessary but repetitive work activities can help prevent injury, from lifting assistance to special seating and desks for computer users.
- Set an example. Business leaders should demonstrate genuine interest in improving their own wellness. Modeling safe and healthy behaviors will set a positive example for colleagues and demonstrate your commitment to creating a great place to work.
PART 3: COMMON MSDS
Six common musculoskeletal disorders related to work:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Repetitive keyboard work with too few breaks, especially paired with personal smartphone and tablet use, can cause inflammation. This can lead to compression of the median nerve in the wrist, and pain while grasping, gripping or using the thumb.
- Tendinitis: Most commonly associated with athletes’ legs and ankles, tendinitis can also affect shoulders, elbows and wrists. Any kind of repetitive work can lead to inflamed tendons – and if not treated promptly, acute tendinitis can become chronic.
- Rotator cuff injuries: An estimated 65 percent to 70 percent of all shoulder pain is caused by injury to the rotator cuff, part of the shoulder’s complex mechanism. Work that involves lifting, carrying, or other prolonged arm use above the shoulder increases strain on rotator cuffs.
- Epicondylitis: This injury, caused by overuse of the muscles in the arm, leads to pain in the elbow and/or a weak or painful grip. Those who work with their hands, like painters, plumbers, autoworkers, and chefs, are particularly susceptible, particularly between the ages of 30 and 50.
- Trigger Finger: Also called stenosing tenosynovitis, and most often occurring in the thumb or ring finger, trigger finger symptoms can range from stiffness, popping or clicking as the finger bends and straightens, to numbness or inability to straighten the affected finger. Work that requires prolonged gripping or pinching is a major risk factor. Women are also more likely than men to develop trigger finger.
- Muscle strains and low back pain: Low back pain can affect workers no matter what their job. Those who stand or walk all day, like many medical professionals, stress their lumbar region; sitting at a desk with poor posture or inadequate back support can also cause back pain. Frequent breaks – either to stand or sit – can help prevent muscle strain.