By Allison Binning
Happy National Safety Month!
This June, we can celebrate National Safety Month by doing more than just wearing steel-toe shoes. For years, employers have been educating their employees on physical safety in the workplace. But employees known as “industrial athletes,” who use their physical strength, coordination, and endurance for their jobs may be overlooking their mental health safety as well. National Safety Month includes all aspects of physical and mental well-being, from a healthy work-life balance to proper lifting techniques and stress management. And it matters now more than ever, as these pressures continue to rise.
Total Safety–Mentally and Physically
How do we see this playing out across the employer landscape? Let’s look at the construction industry for instance. Construction workers are known for their strength and stamina, along with working alongside heavy-duty equipment every day. It’s not surprising that they have a constant awareness of safety protocols to protect them from their hazardous working conditions. But did you know that construction workers are disproportionately affected by mental health problems? In fact, construction workers have a suicide rate that is four times higher than the national average–53.2 suicides per 100,000 workers. The number of suicides among construction workers is five times higher than all other construction fatalities combined. Likewise, without proper stress management, construction workers are at a much higher risk of serious injuries or fatalities at work.
Steve Frost from the Construction Suicide Prevention Partnership and Sally Pace discuss risk factors, tools, and goals for construction industry mental wellness in
Between a high-pressure work environment, end-of-season layoffs, and separation from family for long stretches of time, construction workers struggle with mental stability. And with the addition of a work environment that potentially stigmatizes mental health issues, many industrial athletes across all fields struggle to give their mental well-being the priority it needs.
Throughout the US, employees are experiencing stress due to many hours of work combined with any other life problems that may pop up. Tight schedules, long commutes, and long work days also affect mental health. In turn, poor mental well-being can lead to poor physical well-being– smoking, unhealthy eating habits, and poor sleep.
As mental health problems get worse, employees experience:
- Decreased productivity
- Increased conflict among co-workers
- Near hits, incidents, and injuries
- Decreased problem-solving ability
- Increased tardiness and absenteeism
How to Work Right
These are some of the daunting challenges facing employers, and the challenges being embraced by teams like that at Work Right, injury prevention experts to some of the biggest brands in the country. Before accidents and injuries occur, Work Right encourages companies to try a different approach: complete and comprehensive care for employees while they’re working. When Work Right starts working with a client, says Ty Gilmore, Work Right’s Director of Operations, “we focus on three core aspects: the individual, the system, and the culture.” Addressing each area is key– each needs to value getting the right nutrition, sleep, and injury prevention techniques to perform their best. Nic Patee, CEO of Work Right, says “most musculoskeletal injuries are preventable with the right care, knowledge, and ergonomic changes in the workplace.” Work Right provides Athletic Trainers and Physical Therapists on-site to provide the care and education that employees need. On their month-to-month contracts, Work Right’s Injury Prevention Specialists have duties such as “evaluating the workplace for ergonomic changes, giving advice on an unusual ache or stiffness, or teaching prevention programs that target strength and flexibility of the workforce.”
But Nic argues that employee ergonomics goes beyond correct posture and stretches. Cognitive Ergonomics is the method of designing and arranging information and data to create a light cognitive load. “Perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response,” Nic argues, “all affect how someone interacts with and performs their work. A higher cognitive workload causes more stress on the worker. This can manifest in physiological changes that affect a higher risk for injury whether that be due to awareness of our surroundings or higher muscle fatigue that leads to injury.” By addressing these cognitive aspects of work through culture, Work Right tries to reduce the risk of workplace injuries caused by high muscle fatigue or stress.
Safe Workplaces Create Better Employees
Investing in proactive care not only ensures the well-being of employees but also makes financial sense for companies. The total cost of work injuries in 2021 was $167.0 billion. The cost per medically consulted injury in 2021 was $42,000, while the cost per death was $1,340,000. Days lost due to injuries in 2021 totaled 70,000,000. The National Safety Council estimates 55,000,000 additional days will be lost in future years due to on-the-job deaths and permanently disabling injuries that occurred in 2021.
Nic explains lowering these costs is possible through proactive care. Employees often don’t have the knowledge or services to prevent these injuries or recognize when they’re pushing themselves too hard. Work Right’s Injury Prevention Specialists take part in their internal “mentor program, leadership program, and continuing education platform” to make sure they’re up to date on the latest research to provide the best solutions for employee safety. They additionally use wearable technology and other forms of data collecting to analyze and assess workplace injury risk, so the on-site specialists can tailor personalized plans to prevent injuries in every workplace. With their training and data collection, Work Right Injury Prevention Specialists tackle the misconceptions and lack of knowledge surrounding mental and physical safety in the workplace.
So, this National Safety Month, let's embrace a proactive and upbeat approach to workplace safety. By prioritizing both physical and mental well-being, we create a culture where employees thrive, accidents are prevented, and businesses flourish. Remember, safety is more than just a steel-toe shoe – it's a commitment to building a healthier and happier workforce.
Join us for a webchat around the importance of employee mental and physical health during National Safety Month, June 28 at 9am CT. Learn more here.