Safety and Health: Why They’re Partners In Your Wellbeing

June is National Safety Month, as recognized by the National Safety Council.  The nation’s leading non-profit safety advocate, the NSC calls attention to how a focus on safety – from the workplace to anywhere – benefits people, employers and society.

When most of us think about safety, we don’t immediately think about health, other than perhaps how safety issues can negatively impact health.   We don’t consider how health can impact safety.

Yet, research has shown that there are many overlaps between safety in the workplace and health, especially for work that is strenuous and repetitive and for which being in good physical shape is essential. For example, obesity is one of the major contributors to back injuries because overweight people often have difficulty using good body mechanics when moving and lifting objects. There are also numerous links between workplace stress and work-related illness because stress contributes to high blood pressure, which can result in poor decision-making and increased errors. The American Institute of Stress says that 80% of workers say their job is stressful and almost ½ say they need help in managing stress. Inadequate sleep and fatigue can also directly reduce concentration and the ability to work safely, even for employees in non-physical jobs.

The cost of workplace injuries

For employers, much is at stake when it comes to safety.  In 2019, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in a recent year private employers experienced over 2.8 million non-fatal workplace injuries and work-related illnesses. Sadly, there were also 5,250 fatal workplace fatalities. Fatalities were more likely to involve higher risk occupations such as truck drivers, logging workers, commercial fisherman and law enforcement personnel. Costs to employers for direct workers compensation alone are estimated at almost $1 billion per week according to OSHA. Outside of work, there are over 40 million emergency room visits each year due to personal injuries.

The fact is there is a direct connection between safety and health. Yet most companies treat these as separate initiatives and manage them in separate departments, using separate programs, budgets, measures, and reward systems. This is not an insignificant issue, because without properly connecting them under one integrated system, accidents, injuries, and lost productivity often result, as well as higher labor and insurance costs. In addition, in certain industries and jobs, product and service quality suffers and, in general, a drop in employee engagement can occur.

According to Bill Sims Jr., president of The Bill Sims Company, a leading behavior-based wellness and safety incentives company, in most firms safety and wellness are two behavioral silos that are largely disconnected. HR watches over the wellness effort, and safety watches over safety behaviors. One intersection few leaders realize is that off-the-job safety injuries can account for 20-25 percent of healthcare costs, but most wellness efforts don’t address it.

While your employer may not have an integrated management approach to safety and wellness, there are steps you can take to stay safe by improving your health.  Here are three low cost or no cost activities that can improve your safety while improving both your physical health and mental health.

Exercise regularly

Start exercising regularly (after first consulting with your physician or health care provider of course).  Regular exercise has numerous health benefits and it doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.  Taking a brisk walk – a 3 mile per hour pace – counts as moderate exercise.  Experts recommend 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Regular cardio exercise can improve your strength and flexibility, give you more energy and stamina, build stronger bones and muscles, and lower your risk of diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers.  It can also help you keep off extra weight and improve your cholesterol.  In terms of mental health, exercise is a great, low cost stress management tool. Much less expensive than therapy!  Besides lowering stress, it will improve your mood,  sharpen your mental focus and memory, and improve your creativity. All that, and it can help you sleep better too!

Get enough sleep

Sleep has a restorative effect on humans, both physically and psychologically.  The amount of sleep people need varies; the Sleep Foundation’s studies recommend 7-9 hours of good sleep per day for most adults. But most Americans are sleep challenged. In fact, roughly 1 in 3 American adults isn’t getting enough sleep according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

For some – the 22 million Americans suffering from sleep apnea – lack of sleep is a medical condition. For others, lifestyle habits or work schedules are depriving them of the sleep they need.   Many of us find ourselves among the millions who work late or overnight shifts, overuse energy drinks, can’t disconnect from our digital devices, or those for whom work traveling interferes with natural sleep cycles.

Lack of sleep can lower your sex drive, weaken your immune system, reduce critical thinking ability and lead to weight gain.  When you don’t get enough sleep, you may also increase your risk of certain cancers, diabetes, and even car accidents. If getting sleep is a challenge for you and you need help, talk with your physician, health coach, EAP counselor or other health or behavioral healthcare professional.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a basic human ability of being purposely present in the moment and fully aware of one’s environment.  It runs counter to the tendency for us to mentally spend too much time thinking (worrying) about the future or re-living (regretting) the past. There are many free or nearly free resources for learning mindfulness. Progressive employers like Kaiser Permanente teach mindfulness to their employees and members of their healthcare systems.  Mindfulness practice, learned or re-discovered, can be done while walking, sitting, conversing or getting ready for sleep.  Mindfulness has many benefits and has been found to improve both physical and psychological health. Benefits of mindfulness include relieving stress, aiding in relieving depression and anxiety, improving focus and attention, lowering blood pressure, improving heart health, reducing chronic pain, improving digestion and improving sleep.  And mindfulness might even make you a kinder person.

So, when you think of safety, think of how you can’t be safe unless you are physically and mentally healthy. Think about how these three activities- exercise, sleep and mindfulness – can help you feel better and be safer.

About Espyr

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