Sunday, January 29, 2012

Get Serious About Employee Aches And Pains

How much time and productivity are you losing to employee aches and pains? What's it costing your business? Probably more than you think.
On any given day, millions of employees work through their aches and pains, some job-related, some not. Sore backs, aching necks, and stiff knees plague workers of all ages. It's a big problem for employees, and a costly one for employers.

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), "The prevalence of pain has a tremendous impact on business."

A study by the Institute of Medicine puts the annual cost of pain-related lost productivity at around $300 billion. That's based on missed workdays, lost work hours, and reduced wages.

AAPM notes that:

  • More than half of Americans live with chronic or recurrent pain.
  • Leading types of pain are headache, backache, and neck pain. 
  • About 4 in 10 Americans say pain interferes with their mood, activities, sleep, and ability to work or enjoy life.

Pay Attention to Early Warning Signs

Winnie Ip, director of consulting for Humantech, an ergonomics consulting firm, believes that pain is a bigger problem that people realize. "What I see in both the office and manufacturing environment is that people think aches and pains are just part of the job." Many companies wait until an injury has occurred to mitigate the risk.

"We stress that the earlier you can get employees to report aches and pains, the better," says Ip. That's because once pain turns into injury, lost productivity and absenteeism soon follow. Ip also notes that people in pain are more prone to injury.

Employers need to train their workers to become attuned to the root causes of pain and to know where to go for assistance, Ip says. Some companies, for example, require employees to take a simple daily or weekly survey at the start of their shift.

The survey might ask, "How are you feeling today?" The employee indicates pain level on a graphic scale or by checking a happy, sad, or neutral face.

Other employers have a daily "standup" meeting. This is a quick gathering during which supervisors ask workers about the level of discomfort they are experiencing that day.

"It's all about early reporting and finding unique ways to get that information early," says Ip.

Best Buy Best Practices

Electronics retailer Best Buy is going after workplace aches and pains on several levels, according to Jennifer Menk, program manager of the company's Wellness Zone, operated by worksite health promotion provider HealthFitness.

"Our most popular ache and pain resource is massage therapy," Menk says. Employees can schedule a massage at the wellness facility for $1 per minute. Sometimes department heads provide free massages for their employees, delivered on-site by Wellness Zone massage therapists.

Another popular pain-busting strategy is Bowen therapy. This hands-on method teaches the body's muscles to heal themselves. A specialized practitioner applies the gentle maneuvers to specific trouble areas. The practitioner also helps employees analyze their posture and habits to uncover sources of pain.

Yoga is well-liked offering at the Wellness Zone as well. Menk teaches several classes a week to employees seeking relief from neck and back pain. Noontime classes are especially popular. Menk also leads 10- to 15-minute yoga breaks within departments.

Menk and other trainers also hold lunch-and-learn sessions on wellness topics.

Menk believes a strong wellness program helps attract and retain employees and contributes to their overall well-being. Such programs and activities can also help you reduce the incidence of employee aches and pains so that they don't interfere with productivity and safety.

Thanks to Chris Kilbourne / Safety Daily Advisor BLR / BLR Business & Legal Reports

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