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Got it? Flaunt it! Put those impressive numbers in front of top leadership
Every occupational health manager has themsimple, easy to understand numbers that are really eye-popping. However, this data may be overlooked, forgotten about, or just plain ignored.
There is absolutely no reason for this, says Linda K. Glazner, DrPH, RN, COHN-S, CCM, FNP, FAAOHN, an occupational health consultant with Linda K. Glazner & Associates in Wausau, WI, since occupational health has plenty of powerful evidence to work with.
"Even just a few years ago, there wasn't a lot of statistical evidence that we could use. Occupational health was kind of done on faith. You did it because it was good for morale," says Glazner. "But now we do have statistics that show that if people improve their health, companies save money."
Saying things like, "it's just my job" minimizes what you do. "In reality, when people hear what we do, they are very impressed," says Glazner.
Kathleen Buckheit, MPH, COHN-S/CM/SM, director of continuing education at the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Education and Research Center in Chapel Hill, says that "with companies downsizing and possibly using one health and safety professional, you may need to step out of your comfort zone. As a whole, companies do not understand the value of occupational health."
Since you're not generating income for the company, you need to make it clear that there are other ways to impact the bottom line. Maintaining a healthy and safe workforce is certainly one. "This saves the company indirect costs associated with injuries and illnesses and maintains quality and high productivity," says Buckheit. "Don't be timid about letting management know how you save money for the company." Here are some good strategies:
Find something that badly needs improvement, and turn it around.
If the percentage of employees who do a Health Risk Appraisal increases from 80% to 90% on your watch, this isn't very head-turning. But imagine if that number went from a dismal 10% to 90% in a single year, thanks to your efforts.
Glazner says she once worked for a company with numerous violations and a terrible safety record. In this type of workplace, she says, "anything you do will be impressive. Even if you are there just managing it, it will improve. Just make sure everybody remembers where they were when you started!"
Similarly, there are problem areas in every workplace that are ready for a dramatic turn-around. However, if a statistic has improved only slightly, such a 5% reduction in absenteeism in a given year, Glazner recommends pointing out why it could have been far worse. "Something certainly could be happening beyond your control that kept it from being as good as it could have been," she says.
Show higher-ups numbers from the company's annual report.
"The annual report tends to be glowing, because the company wants stockholders to know we are doing really well," says Glazner. "People are more likely to listen to what you want to do, if it's made it to the annual report."
Any data involving occupational health should be brought to everyone's attention. For instance, the report may credit your successful immunization program for minimizing the financial cost of a flu epidemic. "If there is a library within the company, I'd send it to the librarian to put on the shelf. Certainly, send it to the union if there is one, after talking to your direct report," says Glazner.
Put your most impressive data into the company newsletter.
Glazner suggests writing a health column including eye-catching information about occupational health. For instance, in a column on flu prevention, you could mention the fact that double the number of employees received flu shots this year.
Don't be afraid to cite an attention-getting number.
Many times, statistics aren't terribly clear-cut. Often, there is a range of them to choose from. While one study may report a 10% reduction in presenteeism after a certain intervention, another researcher may report a 50% reduction. A third study might be somewhere in the middle.
Given this scenario, occupational health managers "tend to underestimate," says Glazner. "If there is a range of numbers, most will pick the bottom one. Why not assume the middle number or even go with the high number?" she says. A good example of this involves money saved from fines that weren't incurred. "You can tell people, 'The average fine for this violation is `X' amount of dollars, and we saved that this year,'" says Glazner.
For more information about communicating the successes of occupational health, contact:
Kathleen Buckheit, MPH, COHN-S/CM/SM, Director of Continuing Education, Occupational Safety and Health Education and Research Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Phone: (919) 962-2101. Fax: (919) 966-7579. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Linda K. Glazner, DrPH, RN, COHN-S, CCM, FNP, FAAOHN, Linda K. Glazner & Associates, Wausau, WI. Phone: (715) 849-1776. Fax: (715) 849-2840. E-mail: Glazner2@aol.com