Look within to tweak occ health programs

In 2007, Omaha, NE-based Union Pacific conducted a retrospective analysis to examine the relationship between employees' health status and injury occurrences. Data were matched for employees in various departments who completed a voluntary health risk appraisal and experienced an injury during a defined period of time.

"Based on the health risk assessment results for the study sample of more than 700 employees, six factors showed statistical significance for the likelihood of injury," says Jackie Keenan, senior manager of occupational health psychology. Those six factors are being overweight, fatigue, inactivity, smoking, depression and stress.

Union Pacific's occupational health professionals used this data to improve its health promotion and behavioral health promotion programs. "The study validated what research has been stating," she says. "Health risks increase the direct and indirect costs of workplace injury."

The good news is that most indirect behavioral health problems such as depression are highly treatable, and workplace programs usually require minimal investment. "It is much more costly to not address behavioral health, than to implement comprehensive programs to address the problems created by this major cost driver," says Keenan.

Use existing research on contributory factors to illness and injury to make your case for program development. When you do so, ask your employee population for help.

"Employees frequently are interested in providing information that will give them a better program or increased quality of life," she says.