August is a time of transition, as summer vacation winds down and people of all ages prepare for fall routines and new projects. This edition of Health e-News offers a sampling of helpful tips to refocus your energy on good health both at work and at home. You'll find articles on workplace safety, back to school transitions, and how to prepare for upcoming health care reform.
Please pass along this valuable information to your employees. Their version of this month's newsletter is available at: http://goo.gl/UJNdE4.
To your good health,
Manager, Wellness and Employer Solutions
Affinity Health System
Thinking Outside the Health Plan Box
Four other areas where employers can realize wellness returns whether they "pay or play" with ObamaCare
By Brian Harrison, MD
Medical director of Health and Productivity Management
Affinity Health System
What can we expect from health insurance "reform"? Well . . . we certainly face uncertainty! Without a doubt, we have many doubts! And, we only know one thing for sure; that is, we aren't sure of anything!
Despite their confusion about health insurance, employers should continue wellness
- confidently! Their efforts will yield financial returns regardless of what happens in the politics of health insurance.
Health plan savings have often taken first place in employers' minds when justifying wellness spending. Yet all along, wellness investments have brought them the greatest return by reducing costs outside of their insurance plan.
The four most lucrative of these are:
1. ABSENTEEISM: LOST TIME FROM WORK. Wellness reduces chronic disease risks, in turn reducing the prevalence of these costly diseases in a workforce, resulting in less sickness leave. This includes unscheduled absence, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and extended medical leave of absence. The costs of lost productivity and of disability, both short and long term, drop.
Chronic diseases most improved by wellness include common conditions like arthritis, asthma, allergies, depression, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, migraine headache, and nicotine addiction (both smoked and smokeless tobacco). Best management of these chronic diseases in research studies may cut absenteeism in half.
Affinity Occupational Health's 70 corporate wellness clients average 0.9 percent work absence annually, compared to 2.1 percent national average (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). Our best-performing companies run miniscule rates of 0.25 percent.
An employer can easily estimate the savings enjoyed when they see absenteeism rates drop year by year as their wellness program continues. For example, one of our clients reduced work absence from 1.41 percent of the workforce to only 0.74 percent in two years. They could estimate their savings by multiplying their total annual employee payroll by 0.67 percent. This saved more than $60,000 assuming average annual wages and benefits of $30,000 for 300 employees. Their entire wellness program cost less than half that amount.
2. PRESENTEEISM: LOST PRODUCTIVE TIME AT WORK. As health risks increase in a workforce, so do chronic diseases, and so does lost productive time while working. Ill or impaired employees will perform less well and do their jobs less productively. In this age of "lean redesign" in which more work gets done by fewer and fewer people, efficiency becomes paramount. Lost productive time at work by a key employee reduces the production of an entire work team.
Employers can measure presenteeism with targeted questions on their annual health risk appraisal. These estimate lost productive time as the percent of time that employees experience inability to complete the required workload, because of their physical or mental well-being. Average workforces have about 3.5 percent presenteeism rates, meaning employees have impaired ability to perform the required work 3.5 percent of the time.
Affinity Occupational Health clients have reduced their percent presenteeism by more than one-third in a year's time; one company, for example, reduced impairment from 4.9 percent down to 3.1 percent of the time. It reclaimed 1.8 percent its annual payroll, which it would have lost if presenteeism hadn't improved through wellness. Using the same assumptions as in the absenteeism example above, the company saved $162,000 in wages.
Research has shown that lost productivity due to poor health practices can cost a company two to three times MORE than their health care claims do. In a large study of 28,375 employees, the average estimated cost due to lost productivity was more than $3,000 per employee per year. Individuals with no health risks in this study averaged only $1,472 of loss of productive time compared to the averages among high-risk individuals, which reached nearly ten times that cost (Serxner, JOEM, 2003).
As with absenteeism, chronic conditions create the most lost productivity burden. These again include asthma, allergy, arthritis, depression, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, migraine headache, and nicotine addiction.
3. WORKER COMPENSATION: A well workforce has fewer injuries especially from cumulative conditions that arise in the workplace. When workers suffer injuries, they will heal better and faster if they have better pre-injury health, especially mental health. Wellness benefits all of these variables. In fact, wellness provides the only "antidote" for the negative effect that workforce aging has on worker comp wage indemnity.
Researchers have found low-risk individuals averaged only $106 per year in worker compensation costs, whereas the highest risk participant averaged $1,241. More than half of the excess in the high-risk group came from wage indemnity.
4. FITNESS FOR DUTY EVALUATIONS: Employees need to report for work "alive, awake, and enthusiastic!" Remaining fit for duty and ready for service matters most in safety-sensitive jobs.
More than 7 million Americans work as commercial drivers, making this perhaps the most common safety-sensitive job. Because of the risk to the safety of the traveling public, trucking requires fitness for duty exams every one or two years. Health risk appraisals and wellness programs improve the likelihood that transportation workers will remain healthy, fit for duty, and pass these recertification exams. This keeps employer costs down, especially in risk management. Consider that each large truck crash costs the trucking company more than one million dollars on average, if involving a fatality. These casualties occur far more often in the other vehicle; not in the company truck, which actually raises liability costs.
At Affinity Occupational Health, we published an observational study that convinced us of the value of these recertification exams to motivate truck drivers to become healthier. We found that drivers will improve their health to reduce the risk and cost of losing their certification.
We followed a cohort of 220 truck drivers "at risk" due to an elevated body mass index (BMI). These drivers would all need a polysomnogram (sleep study) to rule out sleep apnea in order to remain on the job. We presented these 220 drivers with the option of losing weight over a three- to six-month period instead of immediately undergoing the sleep study. Among these 220 drivers, 40 percent resolved their risk by losing weight (88 out of 220 drivers). On average, these 88 drivers lost 35 pounds, dropping their body mass index from 37.8 at the first exam to 32.9 on average three to six months later.
The other 60 percent (132 out of 220 drivers) also lost weight, though not enough to avoid the need for the sleep study. Every one of these drivers then cooperated by completing the sleep study they needed, showing that having first given them a chance to participate in improving their own health, we improved their compliance.
Moreover, when the majority of these drivers presented for a recertification exam the next year, 100 percent of those who had successfully lost weight during the first three to six months maintained that weight loss. This averaged 35 pounds, maintained for an average of almost 11 months.
This convinced us of the power of wellness to improve the fitness for duty of our truck driver clients. Supporting these truck drivers with wellness gave financial value to their employer. More efficient certification exams, higher pass rates, better employee fitness for duty, and a better chance to "keep the wheels rolling" all benefit the employer.
The drivers benefited by improved health, loss of body fat, decreased sleep apnea risk, and reduction in numerous other chronic disease risks associated with obesity. We expect that brought confidence and improved sense of job security. This proved to us that when we treat professional drivers professionally, they respond in kind.
We can all remain confident of the value of wellness programs despite all the other uncertainties that health care reform brings. No matter what else we doubt about the future of the American health care system, we can count on wellness as an employer's best strategy to ensure a healthy future!
Try This! Workplace Wellness Tip:
Healthy Lunch Box Contest
By Rachel Johnson, RD, CD, wellness account specialist
Affinity Occupational Health
August marks the height of farmer's market season and the beginning of back to school planning! It is a great time to promote nutrition improvements, especially when it comes to packing a lunch! Spark creativity in the workforce, and encourage employees to share their healthy lunch box ideas, focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables, by hosting a Healthy Lunch Box Contest.
Throughout the month of August, challenge employees to bring in a picture of a healthy lunch they packed for their children, a spouse, or themselves.
Employees will post their picture on a bulletin board in a highly trafficked location (i.e., break room). This will allow co-workers to see everyone's unique and creative ideas for ways to eat healthy at work or school!
Employees will vote on their favorite Healthy Lunch Box idea.
On the final day of the challenge, host a healthy potluck and reveal the employee with the most votes! Prize ideas for the employee with the most votes include a grocery store gift card, a healthy cookbook, or a new lunch container.
Tips for a Smooth "Back to School" Transition
Bought your pencils yet? Preparing for a new school year can be exciting and stressful for both kids and parents. Here are some tips for easing into the new routine.
Schedule routine medical, eye, and dentist appointments before the school year starts. If you have concerns about your child's physical or emotional health, address them with your family doctor.
Read all information sent from school to make sure no important details are missed. If the parents are separated or divorced, make sure both parents get the information. Attend helpful "see the classroom" or "meet the teacher" events prior to the first day of school. These can give the kids (and parents) a chance to get comfortable with their new environment.
Buy school supplies early. Find out if your child's school has a dress code, and take time to buy new clothes when you're not in a rush.
Gradually transition the kids' schedule and activities back to school mode. Cut back on TV or video games and encourage more reading. One week prior to the start of school, set the alarm to wake on school time, and shift bedtime to an appropriate hour for your child.
Designate specific areas of the house for backpacks and homework.
Prepare and freeze some meals ahead of time. During the first busy days of the new school routine, you'll be grateful for a quick and easy family dinner--and you won't be as tempted to resort to fast food.
When your child expresses concerns or fears, don't overreact. Remain calm, get the facts, and assure your child that you care. Keep a positive attitude.
Get to know your child's teacher. Consider volunteering at school.
Take pictures! These days go by so fast. Enjoy the school years while you can!
Healthy Travels FitPak A creative solution for improving driver health
According to the National Institutes of Health, a shocking 54 percent of male truck drivers smoke cigarettes, 92 percent don't exercise regularly, 50 percent are overweight, and 66 percent are unaware they have high blood pressure.
Lowering the percentages of these statistics in commercial motor vehicle drivers will reduce health costs, work absences, and short-term disability.
How? Introducing the Healthy Travels FitPak, a wellness tool kit to help your employees live healthier and gain a successful renewal of their federal medical exam card. This FitPak will give your drivers the education, tools, and resources needed to stay healthy at home and on the road.
The Healthy Travels FitPak includes:
- Helpful guides on stress and fatigue management, nutrition, health and fitness
- "Stop and Go Fast Food Guide" - to assist drivers in making healthier dining out options with an easy-to-follow stoplight format
- A 10-Minute Stretch & Flex Program along with a resistance band
- Water bottle and hydration tips to encourage drinking water rather than sugary beverages
- Access to a telephonic health coach to help develop a personalized action plan
- And much more!
Affinity will work with you to deliver the FitPak program based on your company's culture and needs.
Promotional materials, wellness challenges, interactive quizzes, and incentives are available to you through this program to roll it out successfully and help motivate your population to take advantage of these great resources.
If you are ready to get your drivers moving in the right direction to improve their quality of life, ease the process of obtaining their cards, and reduce health care costs, the FitPak is a great program to get you started.
Contact Affinity Occupational Health today by calling (920) 628-1532.
To learn more about the Healthy Travels FitPak, watch this video:
On the Case: Complimentary case management services
Affinity Occupational Health case managers are available at no additional cost to you. Here's why you should take advantage of this helpful service.
What does a case manager do?
- When an employee is injured, the case manager gets the patient on track, helping him or her better understand the medical maze and return to work.
- Communication starts with a phone call. The case manager contacts the patient to discuss the situation and answer questions.
- Case managers serve as liaisons, facilitating communication among the patient, employer, and care providers. They are the pivot point from which everyone involved can share information.
- They're also educators, keeping all parties informed of available resources and Worker Comp laws.
Who benefits from having a case manager?
Everyone! When all parties are communicating openly and knowledgeably, the provider can offer the most effective treatment while the patient and employer can enjoy a more efficient recovery and return-to-work process.
How can I learn more?
If you have questions or want to speak with an Affinity Occupational Health case manager, call:
Joy Marks - case manager, Menasha - (920) 727-8733
Karyn Tellock - case manager, Oshkosh - (920) 223-7204
Lisa Reinke - case manager, Menasha - (920) 727-8742
Did you know? Affinity Occupational Health case managers also assist truck drivers with meeting their medical requirements for the federal medical card. For more information, call Joy or Karyn.
|Breakfast With the Experts|
Health Care Reform: Affordable Care Act Updates
Presented by Robert Simandl, JD
Simandl Law Group, S.C.
Wednesday, Sept. 18
7:30 - 9:30 a.m.
Bridgewood Resort and Conference Center
1000 Cameron Way, Neenah
Robert Simandl, of the boutique labor and employment firm of the Simandl Law Group, S.C., will discuss the current status of the Affordable Care Act and the actions employers must take given the ever-changing responsibilities of compliance. Bob will discuss how the delay of the "pay or play" rules has impacted employer planning and plan design, and the operational issues and considerations facing employers. Bob will also discuss the mandates under the Affordable Care Act that remain in effect despite the deferral of the "pay or play" effective dates.
Specifically, Bob will address:
1. New "pay or play" date for compliance
2. Early renewal pitfalls and problems to delay legal responsibilities
3. The aspects of the Affordable Care Act not delayed by action of the administration
4. Employer resources and benefit planning options and alternatives
5. "To Do" for all employers
To register for this free seminar, contact Stefanie Armstrong at email@example.com
Skin Safety on the Job
By Brian Harrison, MD
Medical director, Health and Productivity Management
Affinity Health System
Sometimes it takes a "thick skin" to work anywhere! How do you protect your skin from the following hazards?
Water - It may seem surprising to think of water as a skin hazard, but either too much OR too little water can affect your skin.
Some industrial jobs expose hands and feet to wet work. Soggy work boots or wet gloves cause the outer layer of the skin to become "water-logged." If this happens repeatedly, this outer layer of the skin can actually dissolve. Then the skin loses its ability to hold moisture within its deeper layers. That affects the softness and flexibility of skin, making it stiff and swollen. And, because the outer layer is the skin's main line of defense against chemicals, water-logged skin can be more easily penetrated by other chemicals and become irritated.
Frequent hand washing is required in many jobs. Excessive hot water and soap washes off the natural skin oils, making the skin dry out and become irritated. That causes dry, red, rough, "dish pan" hands. This is particularly a problem for people with personal, pre-existing skin problems, like eczema and atopic dermatitis. Wet work is frequently not well tolerated by people with these conditions. That's especially true in winter months, when the humidity of the air is reduced by heating furnaces. On the other hand, hot summer months with high humidity lead to impairment of the skin's ability to sweat normally, and the development of a rash called "prickly heat." This is a red, pin-point itchy rash especially under the armpits and other skin folds.
Another way in which water can affect the skin is through live steam burns and hot water burns.
Alkalies (caustics) - Sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide are frequently used in cleaning pulp vats and pipelines that contain pulp slurries. While these do a good job cleaning your equipment, they can be highly dangerous to the skin. Caustics ruin the fat and oil (lipids) in the skin, damage skin proteins, and drive water out of skin tissues. This leads to chemical burns that often have a brown overlying scab. Alkaline burns are more serious than acids burns. The alkalies penetrate more deeply and combine themselves with skin lipids and proteins, whereas acids tend to stay more external and wash off more easily. Calcium hydroxide, often added to cellulose pulp in paper mills, also has an alkaline characteristic and can cause burns of that type.
Acids - Sulfuric and hydrochloric (muriatic) acids are used also for line cleaning and deliming in paper mills. These are corrosive to the skin although they do not penetrate as deeply as the alkalies.
Chlorine - The most serious risk from chlorine is inhalation burn of the lungs. It is also very irritating to the eyes. However, chlorine gas can also irritate the skin when it combines with surface moisture. Chlorine gas plus moisture on the skin results in hydrochloric acid, which "bathes" the skin. However, if someone has developed skin burns from chlorine, the greater risk is that they may also have had an inhalation injury.
Biocides - Various substances are used as anti-slime, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal agents. The type known as isothiazolines are particularly common as they prevent mold and decay in paper and calcium oxide/calcium carbonate slurries. In most (although not all) people, biocides of that type can cause a skin rash called contact dermatitis. This is from a hypersensitivity or allergic mechanism. It looks exactly like poison ivy with redness, blisters, skin peeling and weeping. If someone has become sensitized to the biocides, even a very small amount of re-exposure can cause the same reaction. A similar type of allergic contact dermatitis can occur with other chemicals including glues, bonding agents (bisphenol A, epichlorohydrin, epoxy resins and acrylic monomers). Paper products that are treated with ink drying agents (colophony rosin) can also cause allergic skin reactions. Likewise, some individuals have allergies to metals (nickel and chromium), which cause similar contact dermatitis. Hardened metal objects such as tools can, in sensitive individuals, cause a skin rash.
Oils - Machinery oils, if in frequent contact with the skin, can cause a type of acne from plugging of skin oil glands.
To protect your skin on the job, following accepted safety measures is the most important thing. Read MSDS and follow the manufacturer's recommendations for personal protective equipment. Several different types of protective gloves are available, but it is important to choose a type that is recommended by the manufacturer for the product you will be handling. For example, latex gloves are easily penetrated and perforated by certain oils and solvents. Insure that the insides of gloves are clean. Cotton glove liners are very useful for this purpose. Putting your hand inside of a glove that has been contaminated can be as bad as no glove at all; therefore a clean glove with a clean liner is the best practice.
When your hands get dirty, wipe and wash them off immediately. However, when doing routine skin washing, don't use water that is hotter than needed or more soap than is necessary. Excessive hot water and soap robs the outer layer of the skin of its natural oils, leaving it red and irritated. This is particularly a problem in the winter when humidity levels are lower. For the same reason, moisturize your hands after washing. Use a non-fragranced hand cream. In general, the thicker the cream, the better it will protect the hands. Thin, white, "vanishing creams" are more likely to sting if the skin is red or cracked. Ointments like petroleum jelly won't.
If your skin comes in contact with hazardous chemicals, immediately rinse them off, and continue rinsing while someone else gets you the help you need.
If you think you've had a rash develop in the course of your work, be sure to report it promptly to your occupational health nurse.
Your Affinity Occupational Health Sales Team
Holly Tomlin, manager of wellness and employer solutions for Affinity Occupational Health, enjoys building relationships with clients while finding creative solutions for their needs. Holly's background includes 15 years of experience in the health care field, with a strong background in employee assistance programs and occupational health. As a certified massage therapist, Holly has a special interest in educating others on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, including wellness and prevention initiatives.
Tammy Davis, account manager for Affinity Occupational Health, provides corporate clients with valuable information regarding services offered through Affinity Occupational Health. She works closely with clients to determine their specific needs for health and wellness services. Tammy has a bachelor's degree in business administration from UW Oshkosh and over 20 years of experience in marketing, sales, and customer service.
Cindy Budiac, account manager for Affinity Occupational Health, is available to help clients determine the right services and programs for their needs. Cindy has more than 15 years of experience in clinical health care, sales and business development. As our newest account manager, Cindy looks forward to meeting you and partnering on all your occupational health needs.
To contact Holly, Tammy or Cindy, call the Affinity Occupational Health office located in Menasha, at 1-800-541-0351, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.