Workplace Safety and Worker Wellness: What’s the Relationship?

If your company is like most, your employee wellness program is independent of your workplace safety and health program. Yet both programs focus on maximizing the well-being of workers for the benefit of the workers and the business. Ample evidence suggests a connection between employee health and work-related injuries and illnesses:

  • A study at two Tenneco manufacturing divisions found that factors other than workplace hazards, such as lifestyle and physical and psychological issues, appear to increase a worker’s risk of injury.
  • National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) research found that workers who are morbidly obese filed 45% more workers’ compensation claims, took eight times more days away from work, and had five times higher medical costs than workers who are not obese.
  • The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) reports that “alcohol and drug users are more likely to injury themselves or someone else,” and are five times more likely to file workers’ comp claims.
  • Sleep apnea, which is strongly associated with obesity, increases the risk of road crashes, according to a report by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare.
  • The Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at the University of California, Berkeley reports that by damaging lungs smoking makes workers more vulnerable to the effects of exposures on the job.

Overlapping Hazards

The reality is that work and non-work hazards overlap. Stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, chemical exposure, lack of exercise and/or stretching, smoking, and drug and alcohol abuse affect workers’ ability to perform their jobs safely. By focusing on personal health issues, wellness programs decrease the risk of certain types of work-related injuries. Data show that well-designed workplace wellness programs can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of workers’ comp claims as well as the days away from work after an injury.

Identifying Risks and Hazards

Safety and health programs and workplace wellness programs both identify risks and hazards and attempt to control them. Safety and health programs look at the workplace and implement controls to eliminate or reduce hazards. Wellness programs look at the individual, identifying health risk factors and offering targeted programs to address them. Both programs aim to prevent adverse events and effects.

Each organization will have a unique approach to wellness and safety based on its assessment of the hazards of the workplace and the risks factors, interests, and needs of the workers.

Integrating Workplace and Personal Wellbeing

According to LHOP’s Guidelines for Integration of Occupation Health and Safety with Workplace Wellness Programs, combining the two programs results in benefits to employees and the employers, including:

  • Healthier, more productive workforce
  • Lower workers’ compensation insurance premiums
  • Lower turnover
  • Higher morale
  • Less stress
  • More energy
  • Stronger support for families
  • Healthier, more positive place to work

Employee health is an important factor in workplace safety and health. Integrating wellness and safety programs can result in significant return-on-investment for both health insurance and workers’ compensation insurance premiums, improvements in overall company profitability, and a better quality of home and work life for employees.