In a recent claims audit, one of the claims was about a morbidly obese woman who when getting up from her desk, tripped and fell through the sheet-rock wall next to her desk. Granted most obese employees would not be heavy enough to fall through a wall, but obesity is reaching the same epidemic level in the workplace as obesity in the general population.
Duke University Medical Center Study
A study published in April 2007 in the Archives of Internal Medicine is often cited in discussions of the relationship between obesity and workers’ compensation. The reason the Duke University study is used so much in the discussion of obesity and workers’ compensation is:
- the large scale scopeof the study [the equivalent of 11,728 health care and university employees] which eliminated most of the variances in data reliability, and
- the long time frameof the study – eight years – January 1, 1997 through December 31, 2004, and
- the astonishing impactof obesity on the cost of workers’ compensation claims
The obese class III employees, defined in the study as the employees with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater, were compared to employees who were at the recommended weight – BMI of 25 or lower. The following numbers came out of the study:
- For each 100 full time obese employees, they had 11.65 claims per year, while for each 100 full time employees with the recommended weight had 5.8 work comp claims per year.
– The obese employees had work comp claims at twice the rate of non-obese employees.
- For each 100 full time employees, the obese employees had 183.63 lost workdays while the non-obese employees had 14.19 lost workdays.
– The obese employees lost 13 times as many days from work as the non-obese employees.
- For each 100 full time employees, the medical cost for obese employees was $51,091 while the medical cost for the non-obese employees was $7,503.
– The obese employees medical cost was nearly seven times higher than the medical cost of the non-obese employees.
- For each 100 full time employees, the indemnity claim cost for the obese employees was $59,178 while the indemnity claim cost for the non-obese employees was $5,396.
– The obese employees work comp indemnity cost was eleven times higher than the indemnity cost of the non-obese employees.
What Can the Employer Do?
Short of firing all of your obese class III employees, and other employees with a BMI index greater than 25 but less than 40, there are several steps you can take as an employer to lower the cost of your workers’ compensation program (also, the following ideas will have a positive impact on your health insurance program and/or wellness program).
- A weight reduction programcan be offered through your human resources office. The program participation should be voluntary and the participation in the program should be a private matter. If you encourage the employees to be active in the design of the weight reduction program,2.
A healthy workplace food culture is a subtle but effective way of encouraging weight reduction. You can replace the soda and candy vending machines with water bottles and healthy snacks. If you have a company cafeteria, the meal options can be limited to healthy foods lower in calories, fats, sugars, and salt.
- Encouraging physical activity at workcan be as simple as making the stairways appealing to the employees by a new coat of paint, new carpeting, motivational signs and slowing the speed of the elevators. You can ban car parking near the office building to have the employees walk a greater distance. You can encourage bicycling to work by allowing the bicyclists to park the bikes close to the office building. Also, encourage employees to take a walk during their lunch break.
- A fitness programthat includes healthy meals information, health improvement seminars, company-sponsored softball or volleyball team, health assessments, smoking cessation and exercise classes will encourage obese employees to obtain a healthier weight.
- A web-based programfor tracking individual progress has been shown to motivate employees to stay on their weight reduction program. You can set up a simple program that the employees can download to track their weight loss.
- The company intranetcan be used to post motivational posters, weight loss guides, cooking light and meal preparation guides, exercise programs, discount to local gyms and health clubs and any other materials you can think of that will assist the obese employees in their efforts to lose weight.
- Weight loss companieslike Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers jump at the opportunity to provide free seminars on their programs to a group of employees. You can take it a step further by offering to subsidize part of the cost of their programs or arrange for the weight loss company to give a group discount to your employees.
- Health club membershipscan also be arranged for your employees with a group discount. Your company can take it even a step further by offering to cover part or the entire discounted price.
- Health insurance premium discountswhen offered as an incentive for weight loss have been shown to have a significant motivational impact on employees to lose weight. Talk to your health insurance company about how they can price employee coverage to reward those employees who have a healthy lifestyle.
- On-site or off-site fitness centerscan be added to your wellness program. If you have the space available add a few treadmills, stair steppers and other exercise equipment. If the space is not available, contract with a local YMCA or local gym for your employees to use their equipment. (workersxzcompxzkit)
To keep your walls safe from obese employees who might fall through them and to lower your cost for workers’ compensation, help your overweight employees battle their weight problem. The cost to assist your employees to obtain a healthy weight is significantly less than the cost of not doing so. Not only will your company save money on your workers compensation cost, you will also save money on your health insurance program.
Author Rebecca Shafer J.D., President, Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. has worked successfully for 20 years with many industries to reduce Workers’ Compensation costs, including airlines, healthcare, manufacturing, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality and manufacturing. She can be contacted at: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com or 860-553-6604.
Podcast/Webcast: Occupational Health Strategies
WC Calculator: http://www.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/calculator.php
Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers’ comp issues.
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