Why Safety Programs Need to Shift Towards Total Worker Health

The understanding of the connection between employee health and well-being and business and workplace safety goals has grown in recent years. While this idea may be new to some, many of the highest-performing organizations in the world have made employee well-being a focus for years. They long ago realized the connection between employee health and happiness, injury rates, absenteeism, productivity, and turnover.

Many job factors can affect a worker’s health and well-being. According to the CDC, working conditions like relationships with management and coworkers and working hours can contribute to health risks like obesity, sleep disorders, cardiovascular disease, and depression. In addition, according to The Centers for Disease Control, 6 in 10 American adults have a chronic illness, and 4 in 10 adults have 2 or more.

Why does that matter for workplace safety? After all, wouldn’t most of those chronic diseases, like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, be considered non-work related? While not all chronic illnesses are work-related, these diseases still significantly impact the workplace. For example, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, up to 70% of all safety incidents have a health or wellness issue as an underlying factor.

For example, an overweight, less physically active employee is more likely to be injured during strenuous work than someone in better physical shape. Therefore, companies that have steadily reduced injuries by eliminating other more traditional risk factors must also focus on employee health and well-being if they want to continue pushing their safety programs forward.

NIOSH Total Worker Health

Since the 1970s, workplace fatalities in the United States have dropped from 38 per day to 13; while this is a step in the right direction, there is still a lot of work to do. Unfortunately, even though we have improved at hazard reduction and employee training, the injury reduction rate has slowed. As a result, companies that want to continue to reduce workplace injuries to as low as possible need to add new tools to their safety and health approach.

NIOSH’s Total Worker Health (TWH) is a shift towards a more holistic approach towards safety. Total Worker Health uses traditional occupational safety principles to reduce workplace hazards and risks but also attempts to minimize worker illness and improve employee well-being through workplace design.

Undeniably, long hours, poor work-life balance, and high stress can harm an individual’s overall health and well-being. However, these issues become more dangerous when you add in high-hazard industries and employees whose minds are elsewhere instead of on their tasks.

These negative impacts on employee well-being can also lead some to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, contributing to more workplace accidents. In contrast, happy, healthy people are less likely to miss work and report higher job satisfaction, which reduces turnover and improves workplace culture.

How exoskeletons can help increase employee well-being and create a safer workplace.

As companies shift their safety and health programs towards the NIOSH Total Worker Health approach, they must look closely at every aspect of their business. They must analyze every step of their process and ask themselves if it is positively or negatively affecting the health and well-being of their workers. If they do, they may discover that many aspects of their process that they may have taken for granted may realize the need to change.

For example, most industries use manual labor, with some more heavily reliant on it than others. Many companies have addressed the risks associated with manual labor with traditional methods like training body mechanics and handling techniques. However, while this may reduce injuries, the stress and fatigue on workers’ bodies caused by manual labor still exist.

Soft tissue injuries in the United States are one of the leading causes of preventable workplace injuries. As a result, modern organizations have begun to apply a comprehensive work health approach and look for ways to modify their process and environment to eliminate the need for manual handling and reduce it to as much as possible. Unfortunately, some manual handling is still required; thankfully, modern technology is not available to help reduce the risk even further.

Exoskeletons help reduce the wear and tear on your employee’s bodies so that they can have lower injury risk and less fatigue. In addition, this wearable technology allows companies to protect their workers’ physical and mental health and create a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce with less absenteeism and turnover.

Apogee from German Bionic is latest exoskeleton that supports the lower back to provide 30kg (66 pounds) of lifting support plus active walking assistance. Apogee is fully connected and seamlessly integrates into any industrial IoT environment or Smart Factory ecosystem. In addition, its built-in early warning system corrects poor posture and lifting practices to prevent injuries proactively. Finally, Apogee provides leaders with real-time data they can use to optimize their processes and maximize their return on investment.

To learn more about Apogee and how German Bionic can help your organization move towards a Total Work Health approach to safety, contact one of our experts today.

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