Occ-health program nets award, saves millions

$7.7 million realized in CTDs, lost work days

Information and Electronic Warfare Systems (IEWS), a business unit of BAE SYSTEMS North America in Nashua, NH, has realized millions of dollars in savings and improved employee health and safety through multifaceted programming that earned it a 2003 Corporate Health Achievement Award for "an outstanding portfolio of programs and proactive interventions for patients with CTDs [cumulative trauma disorders]" from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

IEWS, which employs 5,400 people at 10 major facilities in eight states, is a major producer of aircraft self-protection systems and tactical surveillance and intelligence systems for all branches of the armed forces.

Highlighted IEWS programs included ergo-nomics, ambulatory health clinics, toxicology assessments, and its "State of Mind" program.

All of the programs at IEWS are impacted by an innovative activity called State of Mind. Its basic premise is that people possess inherent health such as resilience and common sense. Over time, they lose sight of this and encounter both personal and interpersonal problems. As people understand how they function psychologically, they can reactivate their basic strengths to achieve their full potential. Through individually based training seminars and team meetings, senior managers are helped to understand fundamental principles of emotional health. (See charts below.)

"We believe State of Mind has been very effective in improving the work climate across the company, and making our company a place where people want to work," says Robert Godefroi, MD, corporate medical director. "We have done research within the company, looking at various measures, and there are some data that show a positive trend."

Ergo saves money

IEWS has been proactive in ergonomics practices since the early 1990s. From 1992 to 2001, workers’ compensation costs have declined from 69% to 18% of payroll, for a cumulative cost savings of $7.7 million. In recent years, total workers’ compensation costs as a percentage of payroll, as well as incident rates, are significantly below the industry averages established by the U.S. Department of Labor and OSHA.

The ergonomics program at IEWS is both systematic and thorough, incorporating workstation setup analysis in production and administrative work areas. The medical department evaluates worksites and practices on a routine basis to identify and eliminate exposures to cumulative trauma; supervisors are required to send all employees who exhibit signs and symptoms of possible CTDs to the medical department for evaluation.

"We established a task force to address CTDs in the early ’90s," notes Catherine M. Pepler, RN, MBA, medical services manager. "It included people from employee health and safety, engineering, purchasing, medical, and other employees, as well as an insurance carrier." This broad-based task force helped ensure a successful program, she notes, because "everyone brought their particular interests to the table."

Their comments not only addressed work station design, but tools that were used in different job functions. Task force members would share and act on their concerns.

"That comprehensive approach continues until today; it’s still alive and well," says Pepler. "When a person starts with BAE, there is an ergonomic assessment made. Their workstations are looked at, and recommendations are made to adapt them to specific employees."

An ergonomic information file is kept on each employee, which can be referred to if problems crop up. "If the employee is transferred, the information is sent on," she notes. "It’s also shared with the employee and with their manager, so everyone is on the same page."

Godefroi oversees the entire program. "We oversee injuries until the time they are successfully treated," he notes.

Ergonomic education and training begin at orientation and continue throughout employment. "Everyone goes through the training," says Pepler. "There is a linkage between education and assessment and the lessons learned from cases that have arisen."

Ambulatory clinics successful

Another key part of the IEWS success story is the system of ambulatory health clinics. In the past, each IEWS facility had a medical dispensary staffed by a full-time nurse, where medical supplies were stored and treatment was provided. In January 2000, the program was upgraded by establishing the ambulatory health clinics across the company’s New Hampshire sites.

"Since we already had the on-site medical staff to perform clinic functions, we thought it was prudent to increase care to nonoccupational health problems, instead of just seeing employees with work-related injuries," Godefroi explains. "We conducted an assessment and felt we could very effectively and efficiently treat common medical problems on site."

That assessment proved accurate. Since 2000, the number of physician consultations has increased, as have the associated cost savings to IEWS. Using average hourly pay rates, cost savings are calculated at $181,000 in 2001 and $220,000 in 2002.

"The clinics make possible early recognition of any condition that might come up," notes Pepler. "If an employee had a sore throat, they might typically call a doctor and make an appointment. Here, you can come into the clinic, get a strep culture done, and be treated."

Employees have very well received the clinics, she adds. "We regularly survey employees about how the services we provide are valued, and we always have over 90% satisfaction for the clinics," Pepler observes.

Toxicology a key area

IEWS has an extensive industrial hygiene program to evaluate, inspect, and eliminate workplace hazards. The Chemical/Material Review Committee (CMRC) is a key component of the program’s risk identification strategy, reviewing and approving all chemical product requests and establishing safe-use practices for all chemical products within the business facilities.

"As chemicals come into the company, governmental agencies require that we do certain tests to see they are used appropriately," explains Jeff Mathis, environmental affairs manager. It’s how those materials are examined and what is done with the information that sets IEWS apart, he says.

"With the CMRC process, every chemical that comes into our company is assessed for the particular use for which it is intended," he explains. "Where there are potential hazards, we make sure the proper protective equipment is available, and we see if additional monitoring needs to be done. This proactiveness is pretty much above and beyond what most companies do."

All new use of chemicals or hazardous substances must be approved through this process prior to purchase, use, or evaluation, and until the process is complete, no chemical is permitted into the facility. In 2001, the CMRC evaluated 658 chemicals and rejected five.

[For more information, contact the Information and Electronic Warfare Systems Communication Office at (603) 885-2816.]