January 20, 2021 | Health Improvement, Corporate Wellness & Benefits

Connecting the Dots Between Employee Wellness and Workers' Comp Costs

When it comes to return on investment for employee wellness programs, most calculations focus on healthcare costs. But another significant cost driver could be improved with a comprehensive employee wellness program: workers’ compensation claims.

This article will explore what health conditions can put employees at risk of workplace injury and several wellness program best practices that can reinforce your injury prevention efforts and decrease your workers’ compensation costs.

The Business Case for Workplace Safety

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Besides proper safety inspections, education and equipment, some employers believe nothing more can be done to reduce costs.

However, a new consolidated model has started to emerge over the past five years: Leveraging employee wellness programs to break down the silos between the programs that help reduce preventable health risks and workers compensation claims.

While an effective wellness strategy can help an employer:

  • Reduce healthcare spend.
  • Reduce incidences of preventable disease.
  • Reduce absenteeism (days missed) and presenteeism (working while sick, distracted or low energy).

Those same wellness programs can also help the employer:

  • Lower incidences of strains and sprains (the #1 category of on-the-job injuries).
  • Lower incidences of short- and long-term disability.
  • Reduce errors and accidents that lead to costly workers compensation costs.

Below are the key issues that an employee wellness program typically addresses and how they overlap with workplace safety.

Health Conditions That Increase Risk and Cost of Workers’ Compensation Claims

Obesity

Obesity is a growing problem in the US, increasing in prevalence from 30.5% to 42.4% from 2000 to 2018. The direct and indirect healthcare and lost productivity workplace costs due to obesity are well documented. More studies are still beginning to shed light on the link between obesity and workplace injuries and workers’ compensation costs.

For example, a study in the Journal of Safety Research found that compared to normal weight workers, overweight and obese workers were more 25% to 68% more likely to experience worksite injuries.

A well-known study of obesity’s impact on workers’ compensation claims is the Duke University Medical Center retrospective cohort analysis, which found that, compared with their non-obese counterparts, obese workers:

  • Filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims.
  • Had seven times higher medical costs from those claims.
  • Lost 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness.
  • Resulted in $13 billion of increased claim costs.

By providing a workplace wellness program that encourages employees to stay active, eat a nutritious diet and manage their weight, you can keep direct medical costs, lost productivity costs and workers compensation costs in check. 

Type 2 Diabetes

Closely tied to obesity is type 2 diabetes, which is a top concern for workers’ compensation programs. When poorly managed, diabetes can interfere with the healing process when employees are injured at work.

Elevated blood sugar levels can encourage infection, delay healing and increase recovery times. It can also require special treatment and ongoing monitoring to facilitate a safe return to the workplace. All of these factors drive up claims costs and disability duration.

When blood sugar is well controlled, a person’s ability to heal fully from an injury or surgery is much more likely.

That’s why your employee wellness program must provide diabetes prevention and diabetes management programs, and ensure each participant has an established relationship with a primary care provider.

Smoking

Everyone knows that cigarette smoking is bad for your health. Some of the most well-known consequences of smoking are cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Many people don’t know that smoking affects nearly every tissue in the human body, particularly the musculoskeletal system, making workplace injuries more likely and more costly.

Smokers are at higher risk for several injuries and conditions such as overuse injuries, sprains and fractures, lower back pain, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking can also have a detrimental effect on wound healing and a higher rate of complications from surgery.

But it’s not too late. Even for long-term tobacco users, quitting smoking can profoundly impact the reduction of risks associated with increased medical and workers compensation costs. A proven tobacco cessation program is key to helping employees get and stay tobacco-free and a must-have resource for your employee wellness program.

Poor Sleep

During sleep, various processes occur to restore our minds and bodies to their normal, healthy baseline. When we sleep poorly, our bodies miss out on the chance to recharge, both physically and mentally.

Chronic sleep disorders can significantly diminish health, alertness and safety. When left untreated, sleep problems can lead to hypertension, heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Poor sleep also slows physical and cognitive reaction times and accuracy, increasing the risk of errors, accidents and injury in the workplace. In some cases, it can put others at risk, especially in industries where worker responsibilities involve patient care or transportation.

Harvard Medical School researchers found that insomnia is responsible for 274,000 workplace accidents and errors each year, totaling $31 billion in costs.

About one in four large employers offer programs to help employees get better sleep, according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson, and more than half plan to implement efforts by 2021. In addition to these programs, it’s also vital to ensure your culture also encourages employees to get a good night’s rest.

Mental Health Disorders

Keep in mind, any work-related illness or injury may entitle workers to receive benefits, including emotional or mental stress injuries that are a result of the person’s job.

Depression impacts more than 16.2 million US adults and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Although it’s one of the most common mental disorders, it often goes undiagnosed and untreated and is a significant contributor to absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace. Moreover, a severe workplace injury can create circumstances that can lead to depression, prolonging the employee’s disability and recovery.

Stress is an additional predictive indicator of workers’ compensation claims. Organizational stressors, stress at home and financial stress are all considered risk factors for workplace injuries. Sometimes, the way workers deal with stress (including drugs, alcohol or medication) can carry over into the work shift and lead to poor attention. Other times, a toxic work environment can cause stress-related accidents and injury, like unreasonable performance demands that lead to excessive workloads and infrequent breaks.

Many employers are taking a multi-faceted approach to improve mental health in the workplace, like promoting their employee assistance program, introducing cultural changes that support better mental health, and providing coaching to improve employee resilience and reduce stress.

Reduce Workplace Injuries and Workers' Compensation Costs With an Employee Wellness Program

The link between employee wellness and safety is undeniable: Improved employee wellness directly correlates to improved employee safety. Improved employee safety leads to fewer incidents and workers’ compensation claims.

It all comes down to which kind of wellness program would benefit your workforce the most? 

There are many different kinds of wellness programs. Choosing one that zeros in on health risk prevention, reduction of risks, and chronic disease management are the options that can save you costs in the long run, especially as they relate to safety incidents and workers’ compensation. 

If the wellness program you have doesn’t produce results in these areas, additional expenses may occur in the form of higher workers’ compensation claims and additional programs and incentives to increase worker safety. 

Bravo’s configurable and clinically-backed employee wellness programs help every participant transform the way they take care of themselves, both physically and mentally. With best-in-class health, high-risk and chronic condition coaching, participants work towards reasonable goals with a personalized plan to improve their lifestyle. 

Incorporating Wellness into Your Workers’ Compensation Strategies

Want to learn more? Watch this insightful webinar about integrating wellness into your workers’ compensation strategies. 

 

Topics: Health Improvement, Corporate Wellness & Benefits

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