How Worksite Wellness Movement Can Benefit Workers’ Comp

The cost drivers

In a May 2011 survey conducted by HR Daily Advisor, implementing wellness programs emerged as one of the top four cost control measures employers are taking to curb healthcare costs. Aimed at reducing medical spending and improving productivity, it does not take a brain surgeon to connect the dots and realize such efforts can be adapted to Workers’ Comp. Early recognition of problem areas and taking care of workers on the front end can avert the pain path of high cost medical, disability and indemnity payments.

It is widely accepted that lifestyle choices such as poor eating habits, smoking, alcohol and drug use are key medical cost drivers. Simply put, healthier people are less likely to have a Workers’ Comp claim and will recover more quickly when they do. A 2009 study in the Journal of Occupational Medicine noted, “…targeted workplace interventions may provide opportunities to reduce not only the risk of disease associated with working conditions but also the risk of workplace injury.” If a wellness program identifies medical risks, teaches employees how to manage their risks and keeps them on track, Workers’ Comp savings will follow.

A healthier work environment

Creating a healthier work environment doesn’t mean the employer needs to invest thousands of dollars in a state-of-art exercise room. A Michigan tool wholesaler with 70 employees had seen its Experience Modification Factor rise steadily from the industry average of 1.0 to a staggering 2.0. As a result, the company was in danger of being placed in an assigned risk pool at very high rates.

Analyzing the loss runs, Certified WorkComp Advisors found that many injuries could be avoided with an emphasis on a healthier, better-trained workforce. For instance, implementing some simple preventive stretching exercises prior to lifting could reduce back claims. A health coach to work with employees in areas such as exercise and proper nutrition could help prevent injuries before they occurred. The impact was immediate as employees started to feel better about themselves and were able to spot a potential injury before it happened. As a direct result of these initiatives, the company’s Experience Mod went down from 2.0 to 1.4, and now is below 1.0. In addition, the employer’s Workers Comp health costs were cut by 50 percent.

Sky-high insurance rates, escalating medical costs and a scarcity of new drivers, have awakened the trucking industry, a sleeping giant when it comes to employee health. The 2010 Cottingham and Butler Trucking Compensation and Benefits Benchmark Survey found that deductibles and out-of-pocket costs to truck drivers and their employers are 40 percent to 70 percent higher than other industries.

Prevention pays off

A regional carrier in Georgia, Trucks, Inc., has saved more than $250,000 in medical costs, diagnosed several pre-heart attack and pre-diabetic conditions among drivers simply by changing the frequency of physical exams. By hiring 46 wellness coaches, Con-way Freight has seen a 32 percent reduction in workdays lost to injury.

Recognizing that shift work, high-stress jobs and hours of sitting in patrol cars before suddenly jumping into action help make law enforcement personnel a high-risk group for Workers’ Compensation and disability claims, Oregon Health & Science University medical researchers have launched a unique health promotion and intervention program study that could help police improve their well-being.

Engaging employees in wellness programs can be a challenge but a work-related injury or a chronic health condition can be a strong catalyst for involvement and commitment. The return for employers may not be immediate – after all, it takes time to lose 100 pounds -but if you don’t act today, can you afford the cost tomorrow?