The Campbell Institute: Supporting healthy behaviors
The Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council is the EHS center of excellence. Built on the belief that EHS is at the core of business vitality, the Institute seeks to help organizations, of all sizes and sectors, achieve and sustain excellence. Learn more at thecampbellinstitute.org.
Health happens where we live. It happens where we work, and in our communities. Age, gender and hereditary factors do impact health, but only a small amount. Individual lifestyle factors – the behaviors we engage in every day – have a much greater impact. These individual lifestyle factors such as what we eat, how much we exercise, the amount of sleep we get at night, and whether we smoke tobacco or not are within our control – giving us great power over our health.
Research indicates that more than 70 percent of chronic disease conditions are related to lifestyle choices. In that case, supporting healthy behaviors promotes healthier employees and can reduce or reverse the negative effects of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and depression.
People are at work approximately eight hours a day – which means they are spending twice that amount of time in the community, with their families and interacting with other people and organizations. During these non-working hours, people’s lifestyle behaviors can greatly impact their health, resulting in a risk that is brought into the workplace.
If people are fatigued at work because they aren’t sleeping, are stressed out or aren’t eating well, that becomes a direct safety risk in the workplace. In fact, getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night has been shown to result in cognitive impairment similar to drinking two martinis.
The paragraphs above describe the Cummins Inc. view of total worker health. This approach ensures health is more than simply a benefit that an organization offers to remain a competitive employer. By developing a strategy that integrates occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and advance health and well-being, an organization can reduce individual risk factors and improve health outcomes.
For example, in many organizations, work has been done to reduce ergonomic risk factors. However, many lifestyle behaviors – healthy eating, tobacco cessation and physical activity – also impact musculoskeletal health, perhaps even more than workplace risk factors.
Certainly, if either the workplace ergonomic risk factors or the individual lifestyle factors are ignored, the outcome is the potential for a musculoskeletal injury. In attacking the root cause of these injuries, lifestyle behaviors simply cannot be ignored.
Only a handful of organizations have adopted a diabetes management program as part of the site safety plan or safety promotion activities. According to the International Diabetes Federation, 387 million people are living with diabetes; by 2035, this number is projected to reach 592 million.
This is a global concern, with the number of people with type 2 diabetes increasing in every country. Most people with diabetes are between 40 and 59 years of age, which means they are active in the workforce. Alarmingly, 1 out of every 2 people with diabetes does not know they have it; 179 million people with diabetes are undiagnosed and living with uncontrolled high blood sugar.
Uncontrolled high blood sugar causes cognitive changes that affect decision-making, mood and alertness, and may also result in complications such as blindness, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and nerve damage. In turn, the cognitive changes may lead to workplace injuries, and the physical complications may lead to the need for employee accommodations.
There is good news: In all of these examples, by reducing individual risk factors through the promotion of healthier lifestyle behaviors – and addressing the controllable factors in our work environments – organizations have the power to further reduce health and safety risk. Implementing a total worker health program is one way to drive continuous improvement in health and safety performance, and should be a part of every organization’s health and safety culture.
This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.
Kelli Smith is the occupational health director for Cummins Inc., a member of the Campbell Institute. Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel engines and related technology around the world.