The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) has announced the formation of a new Health & Wellness Branch intended to raise awareness about the benefits of integrating occupational safety and health with company health promotion programs. Sponsored by the Healthcare Practice Specialty (HPS), the branch will provide a forum to raise awareness and educate its members about personal and global health and well-being. The new branch Chair is Jill Kelby. Janet Hayward will serve as Vice Chair.
The branch, which already has 100 members, will provide professional networking and development opportunities, as well as a forum for discussion and action on health and wellness topics. The importance of work-life balance, as well as health and wellness are not generally addressed when it comes to the safety professional, an issue that the Health & Wellness Branch seeks to address.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in recent years, as the obesity rate has gone up along with health care costs, there has been a considerable increase in employee access to wellness programs and employee assistance programs, both in the private and public sector. From 1998-2008, access to wellness and assistance programs increased from 35% to 54% for public sector workers, indicating a clear increase in availability to employees. Today, many companies are beginning to focus on the relationship between how health and wellness affect employees’ job performance and safety. Effective health and wellness programs are valuable, ASSE officials note, because they assist employees in achieving lifestyle improvements that can yield improved safety performance and increased productivity.
In a June, 2011 article published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine(JOEM), titled, “Workplace health protection and promotion: A new pathway for a healthier and safer workforce,” a recent study of worker health programs at Navistar showed a strong link between safety and health results in an integrative environment where health protection and health promotion activities were combined. The study also showed injury incidence frequency rates dropped and the company achieved a 48% decrease in controllable absences (workplace injuries/illnesses) when health and safety promotion activities were implemented, creating a safety and health focused workplace culture. Many companies are beginning to see a trend in the correlation between availability, and employee participation in, health and wellness programs and a decrease in the number of workplace injury and illness-related absences.
The Health & Wellness Branch defines the term “health and wellness” as the active, lifelong process of becoming aware of choices and making decisions toward a more balanced, healthful and fulfilling life. Health and wellness essentials include good nutrition, proper weight control, exercise and controlling risk sources such as smoking, alcohol, drug abuse and adopting a positive approach to living. The Branch will promote these attributes as those of productive, safe and attentive workers, and educate the general public about the benefits of health and wellness in and outside of work.
More information about ASSE’s Practice Specialties, Branches and Common Interest Groups is available at: www.asse.org/ps.