The Caring Company: Health in the American Workplace

Mark Anderson MPH, CHES

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There is a long history of workplace programs designed to increase employee productivity. As early as the middle 1800's many companies set up planned communities around their mills and factories. They provided a higher standard of living for the time than would have been possible without the company's assistance. The health care was provided by either a company physician or a team of nurses that were contracted to the company.

The 1990's find companies placing their emphasis on increasing employee satisfaction with themselves and their work, in addition to concerns about productivity. Let's examine some of the reasons for the shift:

Accidents are the 4th leading cause of death in the United States;
30 workers are killed each day in the American workplace;
70,000 workers are permanently disabled due to accidents or exposure to harmful elements; and
100,000 Americans die each year due to previous exposure to harmful elements in the workplace.

These facts alone explain the federal government's implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1970. The original OSHA mandate was the provision of medical examinations to workers who come in contact with a wide variety of chemicals, so as to detect early symptoms of possible infections.

Much has changed since then. And compassion is not the reason. Companies quickly saw the rationale of expanding the coverage of medical screenings to other workers as well. Early detection would allow them to pre-empt serious conditions from developing and save on health care costs. Change is now the rule in the American workplace. Look at these recent statistics:

Women account for 60% of recent increases of available workers;
African-American employment rates are growing by nearly 15% each year;
Hispanic employment rates are growing by nearly 15% each year;
96% of married couples with children have at least one parent working;
57% of married couples with children have both parents working; and
the elderly represent the fastest growing part of the American population.

For many businesses, providing a workplace free of safety hazards and providing health insurance to their workers to allow them to access appropriate medical care has been the traditional means of ensuring a healthy workforce. And for years that was enough. Now traditional means are no longer adequate.

So more companies are turning to health promotion programs to address the needs of this changing workforce. Nearly 66% of work sites that employ 50 or more employees have at least one type of health promotion activity. A survey of 900 companies nationwide found this to be the fastest growing employee benefit.

Check out your own company. Are they a caring company? Answer these questions to find out. If you answer yes to three or more you are one of the lucky Americans!

Which of the following does your company have?

an employee assistance program?
a training program for supervisors and managers on issues of employee problems and appropriate referral procedures?
an employee education program on issues of family and parenting.
a health screening program.
prevention and intervention education on substance abuse.
a stress reduction program.
a day care program, either onsite or by issuing vouchers.
a weight reduction program.

5/26/98

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Mark Anderson is a Certified Health Education Specialist who received his Masters degree in Public Health from San Diego State University. Mr. Anderson has over fifteen years of experience working in employee assistance programs in labor unions and external employee assistance companies. He is the current President of the San Diego Chapter of Certified Health Education Specialists.



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