Category Archives: Work environment
We’ve written extensively on NewPublicHealth on the importance of building a Culture of Health—an environment where everyone has access to opportunities to make healthy choices. In June, the Washington Post held a live forum—sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—titled “Health Beyond Health Care,” which looked at how creative minds in traditionally non-health fields are working together to build a Culture of Health in the United States. As part of our continuing coverage of this issue we spoke with Catherine M. Baase, MD, Chief Health Officer at The Dow Chemical Company, about workplace wellness programs.
NewPublicHealth: Why do you think workplace wellness is important?
Catherine Baase: I guess it depends on “important” in what way. I’ll tell you two things. One is if you were asking me why it’s important to a business or a corporation, I think it brings critical value to many different corporate priorities—things such as safety, human capital priorities such as attracting and retaining talent, manufacturing reliability, the capacity to positively impact health care costs. So there’s a landscape of corporate priorities where the achievement of healthy people is important, even including drug satisfaction and employee engagement.
But on another lens, I would say that I think workplace wellness is important to society for the achievement of public health objectives. The fact that we’re not doing really well on the achievement of health outcomes for our population as a whole, and the achievement of improved health will depend on a variety of sectors of society getting involved, and one of them is workplaces. Others are schools and communities and things like that, but the achievement of public health objectives depends a bit on workplaces being involved, as well.
NPH: Who is it that benefits from workplace wellness?
Baase: Well I think the individuals, the employees and oftentimes their families, because a lot of workplace wellness programs either directly or indirectly impact the family. It’s the community within which folks live because the culture is impacted, and the company certainly.
For the last several years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been promoting a concept called “Total Worker Health,” which combines safety programs to prevent accidents on the job with health promotion programs such as smoking cessation. The idea is that emerging evidence recognizes that both work-related factors and health factors that are often beyond the workplace together contribute to many health and safety problems for employees and their families.
A new report in the CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) shows why the combination can be critical, finding that the risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke is higher for blue-collar and service workers than it is for white-collar workers. Studies have suggested that before, but the new MMWR recommends strategies that companies can implement to reduce that risk.
In the new report, CDC researcher Sarah Luckhaupt, MD, analyzed National Health Interview Survey data for 2008-2012. She found that the prevalence of a history of CHD or stroke among people ages 18 to 55 was 1.9 percent for employed adults, but among the employed the risk was 40 percent higher in blue-collar workers (e.g. construction workers and truck drivers) and 53 percent higher in service workers (e.g. hairdressers and restaurant servers). Luckhaupt says that job stress, shift work, exposure to particulate matter, noise and secondhand smoke are all likely contributing factors to the higher rates of CHD and stroke.
In a conversation with NewPublicHealth, Luckhaupt said that employers can help improve the health profiles of employees by using the Total Worker Health program, launched by CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health three years ago as a guideline for workplace wellness programs. CDC now publishes quarterly reports on effective Total Worker Health programs established by employers across the United States. Recent examples include:
- Live Well/Work Well at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in N.H., which aims to improve worker safety and health at the medical center.
- Hearing loss prevention at the Domtar Paper Company in Kingsport, Tenn., and the 3M manufacturing plant in Hutchinson, Minn., which address both noise reduction exposure on the job and in the community.
- A “Culture of Health” at Lincoln Industries, a manufacturing factory in Lincoln, Neb., which includes companywide stretching for 15 minutes every day to help prepare the muscles that will be used on the job; massage therapists who assess and treat people who may be at risk for injury; an on-site clinic for health maintenance, wellness coaching and acute care; counseling and support programs; and social and fitness events.
Beginning later next year, more than a million workers in New York City will have a brand new, health-promoting benefit: paid sick leave days that guarantee wages on a set number of days when they or a family member they care for is ill.
The new law, passed last June by the New York City Council and overriding an earlier veto by the mayor, begins to go into effect in April 2014. New York now joins San Francisco, Calif., Washington, D.C., Seattle, Wash., Portland, Ore., and the state of Connecticut in adopting at least some sick leave provisions.
Not every employee in New York City will get paid sick leave under the new law. The bill that passed the City Council initially applies only to businesses with 20 or more employees, who will be required to provide five paid sick days a year; that extends to companies with 15 or more employees beginning October 1, 2015. Smaller businesses and manufacturing firms are exempt from the paid leave provisions for now, though these workers will gain five days of unpaid sick leave, so they can take time off without fear of losing their jobs. Advocates hope to extend paid leave to cover those workers before long.
Advocates say paid sick leave is critical for smaller businesses, and especially for low wage earners. A survey by the Community Service Society (CSS) of New York found that half of low-income respondents said they have less than $500 to fall back on in case of an emergency, and according to CSS, without compensation for sick days, people are often forced to choose between caring for themselves or a loved one and heading to work.
A 2012 study in the American Journal of Public Health shows why the measure that is critical to individuals and families is equally crucial to society as a whole. The study found that lack of certain workplace policies, including paid sick leave, led to an additional 5 million cases of adult H1N1 (swine flu) during the 2009 outbreak.
Funding for much of CSS’s advocacy came through a County Health Rankings & Roadmaps grant to focus on four areas in two New York City boroughs, the Bronx and Brooklyn, that have very poor health rankings. The goal was to build support among small businesses, faith-based organizations and low-wage workers for passage of the ordinance through grassroots events, town halls, story collection and media coverage, as well as by encouraging partners and allies to include this policy as part of their policy agendas. The grant runs through November 2014 and CSS will be focusing its efforts, now that legislation has passed, on creating awareness and implementation of the new law.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy, research and advocacy at CSS about the new law and its impact.
NewPublicHealth: Key components of the legislation you advocated for passed. What’s next in your efforts on paid sick leave?
Nancy Rankin: We are continuing to work on this issue because we recognize that having a law pass is not the end of the story. We now need to do outreach to inform workers about their new rights and employers about their new requirements, because a new law requires compliance and it requires people to be aware of its provisions.
GUEST POST by John Skendall, Manager, Web and New Media at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).
“How much are we really doing in the area of worksite wellness? Are we walking the talk and serving our employees the way we should?” This question was posed by Paul Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), in a session on workplace wellness at the organization’s annual meeting last Friday in Orlando.
Jarris said that health departments can do more to foster wellness among employees in the states and territories. “We in public health are not leading in this area,” he said. “We are the laggards.”
>>Follow continued ASTHO Annual Meeting coverage on NewPublicHealth.org.
Terry Dwelle, state health official for the North Dakota Department of Health and moderator of the session, agreed. “Health departments must have a worksite wellness program. We need to practice what we preach,” said Dwelle. He also said that the business case for worksite wellness needs to be made to convince employers of the value of investing in wellness.
The business sector is a critical partner when it comes to promoting the health of a community. Employment, income and overall economic stability greatly impact employee and community health. Increasingly, businesses are expanding their efforts from worksite-based health promotion programs to community-wide initiatives to ensure their employees’ access to healthy choices and environments.
Next Tuesday at 3 p.m., a County Health Rankings webinar will take a look at how local health leaders and businesses can work together to advance the health improvement efforts in their communities. The webinar will feature guest speaker Cara McNulty, Senior Group Manager for Prevention and Wellness at Target Corporation, which according to webinar organizers is “known for its commitment to community giving.” McNulty will share examples and lessons learned from her experience at Target to answer key questions:
- What kinds of partnerships are businesses looking for?
- What do communities and businesses need to understand about each other in order to forge successful partnerships?
>>Join the webinar to learn how to build common ground with businesses in your community and advance community health together.
A recent vote by the Washington D.C. City Council requires large retailers to pay a minimum hourly wage of $12.50 an hour—$5.25 more than the current minimum wage of $7.25 nationally and $8.25 in D.C.— and the decision received wide attention, especially when retailers planning to build new stores in the city said they’d pull the plug on the projects if required to pay the higher salaries. But at least two recent magazine articles explain why there’s been a fervent recent push to try to push up the wages of those in low-paying jobs. New York Magazine recently surveyed 100 fast food restaurant employees in that city and asked, among other things, “can you live off your paycheck?” The answer appears to be no. The average pretax monthly pay for the surveyed workers was $984 while average monthly expenses including rent, utilities, groceries and cell phone bills was $1,115—which adds up to $131 more in expenses than pay.
>>Bonus Link: Why does income matter to health? See a NewPublicHealth infographic on how stable jobs and income lead to healthier lives.
And last weeks’ New Yorker Magazine added heft to the need to look at the current minimum wage rate, in light of just how critical that income is to many households. According to the article, while low-wage retail jobs were once squarely aimed at high school students looking for pocket money and those looking for supplemental income, in the last few years of stiff unemployment, studies find that current low-wage workers are responsible for 46 percent of household income. According to the New Yorker article, “Congress is currently considering a bill increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years…still a long way from turning these jobs into the kind of employment that can support a middle-class family.”
The NewPublicHealth National Prevention Strategy series is underway, including interviews with Cabinet Secretaries and their National Prevention Council designees, exploring the impact of jobs, transportation and more on health. “Stable Jobs = Healthier Lives” tells a visual story on the role of employment in the health of our communities.
- Since 1977, the life expectancy of male workers retiring at age 65 has risen 6 years in the top half of the income distribution, but only 1.3 years in the bottom half.
- 12.3 million Americans were unemployed as of October 2012.
- Laid-off workers are 54% more likely to have fair or poor health, and 83% more likely to develop a stress-releated health condition.
- There are nearly 3 million nonfatal workplace injuries each year.
- The United States is one of the few developed nations without universal paid sick days.
View the full infographic below.
A review of 27 observational studies published between January 1950 and August 2011 finds that exercise may help improve survival for people with breast and colon cancer. The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Read more on cancer.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has kicked off a national outreach initiative to educate workers and employers about the dangers of working outdoors in hot weather. The outreach effort builds on last year's campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of too much sun and heat.
Workers at risk include those on farms, construction workers, utility workers, baggage handlers, roofers, landscapers and anyone else who works outside. OSHA has developed heat illness educational materials in English and Spanish; a curriculum for workplace training; a dedicated website; and a free app that lets workers and supervisors monitor the heat index for a worksite. The app displays a risk level for workers based on the heat index, and worker safety information from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration heat alerts.
Read more on worker safety.
Johns Hopkins University has been awarded $15 million over the next five years from the National Institutes of Health to establish a new Center for AIDS Research. A major priority for the new center will be to address Baltimore’s HIV epidemic. A report by the Baltimore City Health Department released last year found that despite national advances in HIV prevention and treatment, Baltimore continues to be among the top 10 urban areas in the country in HIV incidence rates.
At the end of 2009, there were 13,048 people in Baltimore living with HIV/AIDS and HIV infections were being diagnosed at a rate of almost one and a half per day. A 2006 study showed that the lifetime expense of treating each new case of HIV in Baltimore costs about $355,000. That expense, according to the Health Department’s report, “puts a significant strain on evolving health care systems, especially in a city like Baltimore with a high poverty rate.”
Read more on HIV/AIDS.
Dozens of haunting photographs of Americans working at hazardous jobs are currently on display at the David J. Sencer Museum at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s main campus in Atlanta. Called The Quiet Sickness, the exhibit shows just some of the photographs of Americans at work by award-winning photojournalist Earl Dotter. The photographs are drawn from Dotter’s decades-long trove of photographs of workers in industries that can be hazardous, even deadly, including mining, fishing, agriculture and construction. Louise Shaw, the curator for the CDC exhibit, says Mr. Dotter has “put a human face on those who labor in dangerous and unhealthy conditions over a wide range of occupations across the United States. Collectively, [the photographs] make the case for protecting the health of all working people, as well as speak to the dignity and self-respect of the individual worker in America.” NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Earl Dotter about his work.
NewPublicHealth: What has been the main focus of your work during your career as a photojournalist?
Earl Dotter: In 1969 I volunteered to become a Vista volunteer, after attending the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and was stationed in the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee. That was a landmark year in coal mine safety and health because of the Farmington mine disaster which killed 78 miners, and resulted in the creation of the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Occupational Health Safety Administration (OSHA). I was rubbing shoulders with coal miners who were sick with black lung disease, and in those days a coal miner was killed just about every other day. That, along with my art background, gave me an opportunity to begin what has become my life’s work. I started taking photographs during the war on poverty era and that time period was a formative one for me because I was getting to know coal miners and other subjects of my photography in a personal way. The pictures began to have a personal style to them. I was looking at individuals, not subjects. Real people I had come to know and that began to inform what I was doing in a personal way. When people view my images, I hope they can see themselves in those individuals. You may see common ground with someone who is seeking to become all they can be even if they have obstacles, or have not yet succeeded.
NPH: Why is it important to see ourselves?
Earl Dotter: If you can establish common ground, I think that can be a motivating force. It can give you the impetus to take a second look, to not pass by the images. And in that way these individuals who work to build our country command the attention of the viewer in a more personal way.
NPH: The Quiet Sickness has been exhibited before. What is that back story?
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Center for Construction Research and Training have launched a construction fall prevention campaign to reduce both fatal and non-fatal falls among workers at construction sites. Falls are the leading cause of work-related injury and deaths in construction.
In 2010 more than 10,000 construction workers were injured in falls, and another 255 workers were killed, with Latino workers the most likely to die as a result of a work-related fall.
News often focuses on high school drivers who use their cell phones while driving, but a new study of 5,000 California college students by the University of California/San Diego's Trauma Epidemiology and Injury Prevention Research Center finds many older students are also distracted by their phones while driving. Among the findings:
- 78 percent reported driving while using a cell phone (talking or texting)
- 50 percent said they send texts while driving on freeway
- 60 percent said they send texts while in stop and go traffic or in city streets
- 87 percent send texts while at traffic lights
- Only 12 percent said they never text, not even at a traffic light
“Distracted Driving is a highly prevalent behavior in college students who have misplaced confidence in their own driving skills and their ability to multitask,” said Linda Hill, MD, MPH, clinical professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and a lead author of the study. “Despite the known dangers, distracted driving has become an accepted behavior,” said Hill.
A new report by SafeKids, an international safety organization, finds that one in three U.S. children who play team sports suffers an injury severe enough to require medical treatment. The report also found that half of the injuries were preventable; parents often pressure coaches to put their injured kids back in the game; and coaches would like more training in injury prevention.