THE HEALTHY EMPLOYEE:
HOW INJURY PREVENTION REDUCES COMPANY HEALTHCARE
COSTS AND BOOSTS WORKER PRODUCTIVITY
In these challenging economic times, companies need to somehow get more for less. They must reduce costs while increasing employee productivity. One solution is to proactively prevent injuries and common causes of discomfort, rather than simply managing them once they occur. By re-thinking injury prevention, companies can significantly reduce workers' compensation and overall healthcare costs while boosting productivity across the organization.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), such as repetitive strain injury (tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.) and back pain, are one of the leading contributors to group health, disability, and workers' compensation claims and costs. What's harder to track - but equally devastating - is that MSDs cause the often-overlooked phenomenon of presenteeism: employees afflicted with pain who arrive at work but who are anything but productive.
NEARLY 50% OF EMPLOYEES EXPERIENCE DISCOMFORT
Even if you aren't feeling work-related pain, chances are the person in the next cubicle is. According to a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 52.7% of the 28,902 people surveyed had experienced MSD pain over the course of the previous two weeks.1 Our own research reinforces these results, however, we measure "discomfort"- the point at which intervention can prevent MSDs. We found that 41.9% of Remedy Interactive's 500,000 person user base, which is 17 times larger than JAMA's sample, experienced constant or frequent workrelated discomfort2 before working with us.
Coupled with the intangible pain comes tangible (and expensive) healthcare costs. According to The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States, in 2004, companies spent an estimated $510 billion to treat MSDs. The same study compared 2004 medical expenditures to care performed in 1996, and found that costs had increased by 41% over the eight-year period.3 If the price of health visits increased at the same rate, the price tag in 2012 would reach almost $720 billion.
GROUP HEALTHCARE COSTS OFTEN GO UNACKNOWLEDGED
While billions of dollars are an enormous amount to spend on healthcare for MSDs, the actual cost is probably much higher. Most MSD cost studies focus on workers' compensation and disability claims, and take less notice of group healthcare expenditures, such as when an employee goes to a private doctor and doesn't have a reported disability or workers' compensation absence.
Think of Mary Wilson, an executive who spends countless hours flying across the country. She consistently sits in a not- so comfortable position and develops back pain. Mary uses her group health plan to pay for a doctor's visit, a pain killer prescription, then both physical therapy and chiropractic treatments - all without filing a workers' compensation claim. That's money not accounted for in her company's traditional understanding of its work-related injury costs.
It's likely that others in her company have - or will - follow the same route. According to the National Pharmaceutical Council,4 back/neck pain is the second highest driver of medical and pharmacy bills (next to cancer), costing employers an average of $170,000 per 1,000 full-time employees annually.
THE MOST EXPENSIVE, YET LEAST RECOGNIZED MSD COST
Let's go back to Mary Wilson for a moment. She takes a muscle relaxant so she can work pain-free, but the medication makes her drowsy and unable to perform her best. Although she continues to work day after day, week and after week, the combination of the pain and the medication encumbers her concentration, hinders her performance and, ultimately, hurts the company's bottom line. The numbers back up Mary's experience:
Recent studies echo JAMA's, pointing to lost productivity costs as the drivers of skyrocketing health expenses. For instance, a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported that health-related lost productivity costs are 2.3 times greater than medical or pharmacy costs alone.5
- According to JAMA, pain from MSDs is the dominant source of lost productivity in the workplace, costing American businesses $61.2 billion annually.
- Of the 52.7% of subjects who experienced pain, 3.29% of them lost 5.38 hours of productive time per week due to MSD pain.
- Projected over a year, that number represents more than six weeks of lost workdays - losses that will continue to build until the pain stops.
Similarly, Cigna conducted a study of its own employee population in 2002.The health insurance giant estimated its total MSD costs to be $55.9 million that year. Their lost productivity costs amounted to 30% more than combined medical and disability costs.6
Finally, Spring Consulting Group can point to increased employee satisfaction as a goal, and an easier or better employee experience as the outcome of tackling lost productivity.7
THE CASE FOR INJURY PREVENTION
By assessing and correcting employees' injury-prone behavior, companies can cut their MSD workers' compensation costs by a third, and their employee discomfort by half.8 Employee satisfaction, and therefore engagement can be improved, resulting in up to 20% fewer days of missed work9 and the potential for up to 27% reduced absenteeism.10
Consider the case of a technology company that recently struggled with group health and workers' compensation costs. When an employee reported discomfort, the Health and Safety department would perform an ergonomic evaluation. But this system relied on the employees to self-repor t their discomfor t before initiating an evaluation. At that point, many of them had progressed from discomfort to injury, and hundreds of others had already sought treatment through their private medical insurance plan.
To resolve this situation, the company implemented a comprehensive injury prevention program that included proactive communications and injury risk assessment software. Now employees can automatically self-assess their work behavior and environment, and receive personalized feedback.The program also provided management with better resources for analyzing their employees' progress and more efficiently intervening with at-risk employees. Furthermore, the majority of the employees were able to resolve discomfort and risk for injury themselves.
The company also realized these measurable results:
The company reduced its operational health and safety expenditures by more than half, reduced its incidence rate and the cost of its average workers' compensation claim by more than a third, and realized a 64% reduction in lost workdays.12
- 82% of the company's high risk U.S. population lowered their injury risk level from 2006-2009.
- 53% of the employee population that had been experiencing constant or frequent discomfort shifted their rate to rarely ornever experiencing discomfort.
- Employees who still developed injuries were 20 times more likely to have self-reported significant discomfort prior to their injury than employees who did not.11
THE BENEFITS OF IMPLEMENTING
A PROACTIVE INJURY PREVENTION PROGRAM
MSDs shouldn't gouge a company's healthcare budget. Research shows that when employees are able to assess their behavior and eliminate poor habits, they can avoid injury, increase their productivity and, in turn, greatly reduce the company's healthcare costs.
The first step for companies is to implement an injury prevention program that enables them to:
- Understand the risks of injury in their workplace, prioritize treatment, and leverage processes to provide an efficient framework for intervention.
- Utilize a consistent method for collecting and sharing risk of injury data with every sector of the organization.
- Analyze data for root causes of workplace injuries, including reviewing the types of injuries sustained such as carpal tunnel, back pain and other MSDs.
- Review cost drivers and determine how many injuries led to workers' compensation, disability and/or medical claims, as well as the impact of lost time, days away from work and employee presenteeism.
Companies can no longer afford the high costs of MSD pain, both in dollars and inefficiencies. And considering the current financial landscape - where costs need to be contained yet productivity needs to increase - injury prevention isn't only smart, it's imperative.
If organizations can consider prevention as an investment, not a cost to be cut, they will spend far less on MSD injuries and treatment of employee discomfort and reap far more in improved employee attitude. Certainly some organizations will continue to drain their healthcare coffers by treating MSDs to the tune of billions of dollars per year. However, the ones who put a premium on the wellness of their employees and make the change now will gain even greater employee productivity, employee engagement and cost savings - not just today but well into the future.
- "Lost Productive Time and Cost Due to Common Pain Conditions in the US Workforce," The Journal of the American Medical Association, November 2003.
- OES data collected by Remedy Interactive from 2005-2009.
- The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States -Copyright 2008.
- "Cold Case Files," IntraSpectives, Spring, 2008.
- "Health and Productivity as a Business Strategy: A Multiemployer Study," Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, April 2009.
- "The Disability & Healthcare Connection: How Strong is the Link?" A CIGNA Study, 2003.
- Integrated Disability, Absence and Health Management Employer Survey, Spring Consulting Group, LLC, 2007/2008.
- OES data collected by Remedy Interactive for a technology company, 2006-2009.
- "Driving Business ResultsThrough Continuous Engagement", WatsonWyatt'sWorkUSA Report,2008/2009.
- "Employee Engagement: What's Your Engagement Ratio?", Gallup, Inc., 2008.
- Remedy Interactive, Ibid.
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