A small-scale wellness program got big results

Because the average UPS driver walks four and one-half miles a day, you'd think it would be difficult to convince them to come in early for a two-mile warm-up walk, but they do. This is just one example of how the company's Petaluma, CA, facility succeeded in changing the lifestyles of its workers.

Two years ago, the facility's rate for DART (days away from work, restricted work activity, or job transfer) was 10.3 for every 100 full-time employees, 2,000 hours a year. Something had to be done. A group of managers and drivers "brainstormed," says Josh Young, the facility's center manager, who oversees 200 employees.

"We knew we needed to come up with something different to reduce the number of injuries. We asked, 'What can we do as a group that is different than our day-to-day regimen?'" says Young, who sits on the group's safety committee supporting drivers' safety and health initiatives.

The group's three-pronged answer: a walking club, a nutrition program, and yoga classes. At first, only one or two drivers participated, but the number grew steadily, due mainly to word-of-mouth recommendations from co-workers. Injury rates, on the other hand, started to drop. The DART rate is now 4.2 for every 100 full-time employees.

The goal is to make drivers "industrial athletes" who are fit enough to do the heavy manual labor required for the job. To reach this accomplishment, drivers first need to answer the question: "Why should I do this?" says Young. The answer differs for every employee, he says, and might be "so I can play with my kids when I get home" or "so I can lose weight."

"The hardest part is taking that initial step. We showed them the benefits that they can walk away with. Then we went mostly on word of mouth," he says. Outside wellness experts were hired to talk about nutrition, and a yoga teacher held classes in the early mornings. When the classes became too crowded for the space, a group of drivers arranged to meet at the yoga studio before work.

One driver now rides his bike from his house to the gym, then rides the bike to work, and then works his shift. Another driver weighed more than 400 pounds and was counseled on better eating habits, which resulted in significant weight loss. "He is another example of someone who has 'caught the bug,'" says Young. "Another of our drivers [has] quit smoking for six months. We have a lot of inspiring stories."