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The two are inextricably linked
While the issues of safety and productivity may not, at first glance, seem directly related, the two are "inextricably linked," says Wayne Lednar, MD, corporate medical director of Eastman Kodak Co. in Rochester, NY. It is that linkage, he maintains, that has contributed to the success of the company’s occ-health programming. "We have a goal for our work force all over the world: having healthy employees safely and productively at work," he explains. By healthy, Lednar continues, Kodak’s occ-health team means not sick, safe, not getting hurt by work, and being effectively able to do what the company hired you to do — both as an individual and as a member of a team.
Two key issues
Taking his cue from his colleagues in the United Kingdom, Lednar asserts that occupational health must address two basic needs: The impact of work on health, and the impact of health on work. "The latter is really where the larger opportunity is for companies to benefit," he notes.
Addressing the impact of work on health has driven improvement in working conditions for 50 years — i.e., reducing hazards in the workplace, Lednar explains. "This evolved into a whole engineering development out of physical demand; e.g., lifting assists," he says. "To the extent that workplace conditions have reduced the demand of work on employees, there have been fewer work-caused injuries and fewer hazardous exposures. The good news is our safety statistics show that with attention on safety, employee health will improve."
Lednar adds that, especially in work forces such as Kodak’s that are older on average, what he expects to see in the future are health issues that emerge in middle age, which can impact both sides of the equation.
In terms of the impact of health on work, "You’ll see more high blood pressure; the national epidemic of obesity will lead to more cardiovascular problems and diabetes," he notes. "Then, there are people, for example, who have had asthma since childhood, and may work with fumes or dusts — we need to protect them. There are people with seizure disorders; we need to make sure they are safe."
On the other side of the coin, for example, Kodak has many people who travel all over the world. Some of them have diabetes and take insulin regularly. "When they go through a 12-hour time change, keeping insulin levels where they should be is a real challenge," he notes. "This is an example of the impact work on health. For continuing safety, there needs be attention to situations like these, or we will wind up with preventable injuries and illnesses."
Following a road map
Kodak’s occ-health professionals follow a proactive road map to optimize employee health. "When we look to make an improvement, what we need to know is, What are the medical problems in that experience?’" Lednar explains. In one group of workers, for example, musculoskeletal conditions were a significant problem. Most of those were back injuries — and, in turn, most of them occurred off the job.
Thus, the impact of health on work. "If somebody does yard work over the weekend, like lifting fertilizer, and they come to work on Monday to a physically demanding job but don’t mention it to anybody and just try to work, they could be hurt worse," notes Lednar. "Our occ-health nurses and safety engineers will screen employees on a regular basis to help prevent this from happening."
Another part of the intervention is to take the physical demands of work and try to reduce them as much as possible. "With our ergonomist, we have an assessment of the physical demands of every job," he says. "We prioritize changes according to what we know about that kind of work, determining that certain departments need our help first. We assess the hazards of the work. Then, we also look at the employee health experience, if this is an area in which have there have been claims."
Kodak also has put in place work/rest cycles, or work rotation. For example, an employee may do one task for an hour, then to switch another station on the line. "That variety of work helps prevent the repetitive, cumulative injury," Lednar explains.
Musculoskeletal conditioning is another important intervention at Kodak. This includes short exercise routines, designed by an exercise physiologist with input from an ergonomist who has looked at the job and seen its demands. "The physiologist translates this information into what muscles you need for this job, how much strength you need, and how we can get you strengthened and limbered up before every shift," he observes.
These routines are taught to the work force and led by a supervisor, which is very much appreciated by the workers, according to Lednar. "The supervisor gets to establish a better relationship with the workers and develop a workplace culture where employees will feel more comfortable about saying something to the supervisor," he says.
Another aspect of Kodak occ-health programming is called Safe Track. Periodically, a department manager will visit one of his workplaces and walk around with the work group and hear directly from them how things are going in terms of doing the work. "They ask employees how hard the job is, whether they get tired very often, and so on," says Lednar. "If there is a mild discomfort that hasn’t gotten to the point where the employee is injured, we can help prevent that injury. It also maximizes supervisor face time with employees."
Getting real results
This and other efforts did not come out of the blue. Kodak took a good look at what was happening in the workplace — and its effort is clearly paying off. "As we looked at the indication of the burden of ill health on the work force, we found the data on the absences related to illness and injury very informative," Lednar recalls. "It tells you how much time is being missed from work because someone is too sick or too hurt to be able come to work. If looking at the amount of health care costs related to absence, it lets you see if there is room for improvement."
In looking at their own data, Kodak concluded there was, indeed, room for improvement. In one relatively small group of employees in Rochester, case management efforts helped reduce the total absence rate (percentage of scheduled work hours) from an average of 2.84 in 2000 to 2.71 in 2001. Based on an estimated $2 million in recovered productivity per 0.1% improvement, "This resulted in a savings of approximately $3 million," Lednar reports. "In a departmental budget, that’s a lot of money."
[For more information, contact Wayne Lednar, MD, Corporate Medical Director, Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, NY. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.]