Employees value workplace health and wellness programs

April 24, 2003
By: Vicki Bell

Sixty percent of respondents to a recent survey consider health and wellness programs a viable incentive to stay at their current jobs. But it must be the right program, one that addresses the employees' concerns.

A November 2002 study commissioned by the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) found that nearly 60 percent of the respondents consider health and wellness program offerings from employers a viable incentive to stay at their current job. Seventy-eight percent would take advantage of an employee wellness program if it were readily available to them, and nearly 80 percent feel their overall health would improve with the availability of a health and wellness program.

Credibility matters. Survey respondents claim that one of the top reasons they don't participate in their company's current wellness program is because they prefer to obtain health and wellness information from a more credible source. Healthcare consultants and on-site nurses are considered the most trusted sources of information, followed by pamphlets and brochures and human resources staff.

The Right Program

The best program for your company addresses your employees' concerns. Besides encouraging participation, the right program conveys a company's sincere interest in its employees' welfare.

Respondents to the AAOHN survey ranked the following as their top work-related health concerns:

  • Stress
  • Muscle strains and injuries
  • Exposure to harmful substances
  • Personal injury
  • Deteriorating vision due to computers
  • Workplace violence

What are your employees' main work-related health concerns? When is the last time that you asked?

Preventive Measures

Preventive measures should be part of your program. In the interest of preventing injuries and harmful exposure-related health problems, employers should consider bringing in an industrial hygienist for an evaluation. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration's (OHSA's) Information Booklet 3143, "Industrial Hygiene," defines industrial hygiene as "the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers' injury or illness." Industrial hygiene is a term used mainly in the United States. In other parts of the world, the science is referred to as occupational hygiene, which perhaps is a better description as health risks occur in all workplaces, not just in those that could be categorized as industrial.

According to the OSHA publication, there has been an awareness of industrial hygiene since antiquity. The environment and its relation to worker health was recognized as early as the fourth century BC, when Hippocrates noted lead toxicity in the mining industry. In the first century AD, Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar, perceived health risks to those working with zinc and sulfur. He devised a facemask made from an animal bladder to protect workers from exposure to dust and lead fumes.

In the early 20th century in the United States, Dr. Alice Hamilton led efforts to improve industrial hygiene. She observed industrial conditions firsthand and startled mine owners, factory managers, and state officials with evidence that there was a correlation between worker illness and exposure to toxins. She also presented definitive proposals for eliminating unhealthful working conditions.

States passed the first workers' compensation laws in 1911, and in 1913, the New York Department of Labor and the Ohio Department of Health established the first state industrial hygiene programs.

A qualified industrial/occupational hygienist can measure or estimate how chemical, physical, and biological agents in the workplace may affect the health of those who work there-and ultimately the business-and suggest ways for eliminating or controlling the risks.

Program Topics

Besides listing the top work-related health concerns, the AAOHN survey also listed the respondents' top-rated topics for a health and wellness program. The most highly rated topic was stress management, which parallels the top-rated health concern-stress at work.

"Today's employees clearly are dealing with a lot of pressures, such as the effects of 9/11, an unstable economy, national security threats, and work-balance issues. There is a real opportunity for employers to serve as an ally to their employees by providing them with resources to better manage their physical and emotional health-anything from stress management seminars to nutrition and exercise counseling," said Deborah V. DiBenedetto, AAOHN president.

Other top-rated topics include:

  • Fitness
  • Screening programs
  • Health insurance education
  • Disease management seminars
  • Nutrition seminars
  • Stop smoking seminars

How many of these topics does your health and wellness program address? Are there other topics that your employees would add to this list? One way to find out is to ask.

Working with your employees and qualified experts, you can build a program that addresses your employees' concerns, building job loyalty and creating a safer and healthier work environment.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209