A study conducted by the Duke University Medical Center found that obese workers file twice as many workers’ compensation claims, were absent from work 13 more days from a work-related injury and had seven times higher medical costs for claims than the average non-obese employee. Obesity is bad not only for the individual and his or her health, but also to the employer because of the financial burden that obesity has on workers’ compensation claims. Obesity also drives up the severity of claims, increases the time that workers must be away from work, decreases productivity and increases absenteeism.
The Duke University study conducted health risk appraisals of almost 12,000 individuals from groundskeepers to professors to nurses over a seven-year period. Researchers studied the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and workers’ compensation claims for study participants and followed the generally accepted BMI system:
- a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal
- a BMI of 25 to 29 is considered overweight
- a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese
The study revealed a clear correlation between workers with high BMI’s and worker’s compensation claims, missed work days and medical claims.
Workers Compensation Claims Comparison (per 100 workers)
- Workers with a BMI of over 40 had 11.65 claims
- Workers with a normal BMI had only 5.8 claims
Lost Work Days (per 100 workers)
- The obese workers averaged 183.63 days of lost work days
- Workers with a normal BMI averaged 14.19 days of missed work
Average Medical Claims (per 100 workers)
- The average medical claim for an obese worker was $51,019
- The average medical claim for a worker with a normal BMI was only $7,503
Researchers concluded that employers could reduce workers’ compensation claims by taking the necessary steps to assist their employees in getting healthy and reducing their weight. In doing so, they could reduce their risk of injury and improve their overall health.
Strategies that Work
Though some organizations have adopted strategies to assist workers in staying healthy, these programs are not typically implemented at the level that they need to be to positively affect the obesity crisis that is prevalent in the United States. Yet, the following effective strategies can be easily implemented into your workplace as a beginning to reducing your company’s workers’ compensation costs and improving your employees’ overall health.
- Provide healthy eating reminders and prompts for employees via multiple communication channels – email, posters, payroll stuffers, etc.
- Offer appealing, low-cost fruits and vegetables in vending machines and in the cafeteria.
- Provide cookbooks, food preparation and cooking classes for employees and their families.
- Ensure on-site cafeterias follow healthy cooking practices and set nutritional standards as outlined by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines
- Offer healthy foods at meetings, conferences and company catered events.
- Use competitive price strategies by pricing non-nutritious foods in vending machines at higher prices.
- Make kitchen equipment available for employees so they can prepare meals versus eating out.
- Make water available throughout the day.
- Provide food models, food scales for weighing and pictures to help employees assess portion sizes.
- Offer appropriate portion sizes at meetings, workplace events and in the cafeteria.
Physical/Weight Management Activities
- Allow access to on- and off-site gyms and recreational activities before, during and after work.
- Offer and encourage participation in after-work recreation and leagues.
- Provide cash incentives or reduced insurance costs for participation in physical activity and/or weight management or maintenance activities.
- Provide shower and/or changing facilities on-site.
- Provide bicycle racks in safe, convenient and prominent locations.
- Offer on-site fitness facilities.
- Set up programs that have strong social systems and incentives such as team physical activity goals; programs involving the entire family; programs that encourage physical activity; and subsidized memberships to local health club facilities.
- Offer flexible work hours to allow for physical activity during the day.
- Host walk-and-talk meetings.
- Map out on-site trails or nearby walking routes and destinations for employees.
- Post motivational signs at elevator bays to encourage employees to use the stairs.
- Provide on-site child care for employees who need babysitters while they exercise.
- Sponsor a “bike to work” day.
- Establish a policy outlining the requirements and functions of a comprehensive workplace wellness program. Address the purpose, nature, duration, resources required and expected results of the program.
- Orient employees to the program and provide information on physical activity, nutrition and tobacco cessation resources.
- Promote and encourage employee participation in physical activity/fitness and nutrition education and weight management programs.
- Establish a health committee that orchestrates wellness initiatives.
- Offer regular health education presentations on various topics, such as physical activity, nutrition and wellness. Ask voluntary health associations, healthcare providers and/or public health agencies to offer onsite education courses for your employees.
- Host a health fair to celebrate your wellness campaign and invite local vendors to participate.
- Conduct preventive screenings for blood pressure, body composition, blood cholesterol and diabetes.
- Provide confidential health risk appraisals. Add weight management/maintenance, nutrition and exercise counseling as a benefit in your health insurance contracts.
Assisting your employees has never been easier and you are a key resource in their success towards good health. Taking steps to help them lower their BMIs will help lower your workers’ compensation costs.
This information is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as professional advice. Should you have any questions or would like to discuss your workers compensation insurance, please contact the insurance pros at ARCW Insurance. We are here to help.