Mike Tyler of Lockton discusses how you bring together health and safety in one company culture for the benefit of all employees.
Few would argue with the statement “Healthier and safer employees are better for your company”. It feels intuitively correct and it is assumed that these employees will have fewer injuries, less days absent and are better engaged and productive while at work. Many would say that they are sure they have seen evidence that this translates into better bottom line results and as a consequence these businesses outperform the stock market.
Worker safety has continued to improve with HSE statistics showing the self-reported non-fatal injury rate reduce by nearly 50% between 2000 and 2016. This is due to the increased use of risk assessments, safety training, improved equipment and mechanical safety engineering underpinned by the oversight of the HSE. However, workers’ underlying health does not appear to be improving despite evidence of increased levels of expenditure by businesses on health promotion initiatives.
Increasingly, the evidence points to the need to develop a “culture of health” within an organisation and recognise that safety (health protection) and employee health and wellbeing (health promotion) are two sides of the same coin and each complements and reinforces the other. Evidence is showing that good physical and mental health with an absence of chronic conditions is associated with low occupational injury rates. Obesity, sleep deprivation, smoking and substance abuse have all been shown to be associated with higher injury rates. Risk assessments of commercial drivers and pilots are specific examples where this has been effective at reducing accident rates. Strong evidence that better health positively affects safety – is it also true in reverse? The evidence is less extensive but there are good examples emerging of the advantages of this approach. This can be seen when Navistar introduced their “Total Worker Health” initiative and found significant improvements in all of their measures of both employee safety and health.
Developing a true ‘culture of health’ requires integrating employee safety and employee health ¬– tying together various factors that affect workers, including emotional, social, mental, physical, financial and intellectual health. However, what we see in practice is the two components developed in silos in different organisational divisions with minimal interaction and hence limiting their effectiveness.
Examples of best practice for a sustainable culture of health have two key aspects at their centre:
- Strategies for aligning and integrating health and safety efforts across company silos.
- Measurement system that translates health and safety metrics into business value.
1. Company-wide integration
By better coordinating distinct environmental, health, and safety policies and programmes into a continuum of activities, employers can substantially enhance overall employee health and well-being, while better preventing work-related injuries and illnesses.
Integration and alignment of silos requires institutional commitment and ongoing senior-management support. Wellness programmes are likely to receive greater buy-in when it’s emphasised how they help to correct workplace hazards. For example, improved dietary habits, increased levels of physical activity, improved sleep management and reduced obesity are not ‘nice to haves’ within a workforce – they all help to reduce mental errors at work, rates of musculoskeletal disease and disability and workplace safety risks.
2. Measurement tools
Many companies also struggle to measure the full benefits of improved workplace health and safety.
For example, there is still relatively little information about how integrated health and safety strategies help to reduce healthcare costs.
Partly this is because measuring such costs requires the existence of negative outcomes – i.e., the costs that accrue as the result of cardiovascular disease, smoking habits, obesity, workplace accidents etc. The absence of these health problems and their associated costs means there’s less to measure – making it harder to identify the relationship between health and wellness strategies and reduced healthcare expenditures.
A broader challenge in measuring success is the common imbalance between companies’ access to and use of ‘lag indicators’ and ‘lead indicators’.
Lag and lead indicators are types of measurements used when assessing performance in a business:
- Lag indicators are output measurements – for example, the number of accidents on a building site.
- Lead indicators are predictive measurements – for example, the proportion of people wearing hard hats on a building site.
While companies often have access to lag indicators – because they are records of what has happened – lead indicators are more critical to influencing change.
Lag indicator are an after-the-event measurement – essential for charting progress but less useful when trying to influence the future. A preponderance of lag indicators can leave companies inadvertently looking out of the rear-view mirror.
To influence future behaviour, predictive measurements are required. For example, if a company wanted to decrease accidents in a warehouse, it could make safety training mandatory for all employees or require them to always wear hard-hats. Measuring these activities provides lead indicators – constructed correctly these measures should be good predictors of the desired outcomes. Lead indicators do not provide a guarantee of success but where these are monitored with the subsequent lag indicators and modified based on experience a cycle of continuous improvement can be established. Typically, a combination of lead and lag indicators result in enhanced business performance overall.
Making it happen
Ask yourself, how embedded are the health prevention and health promotion safety programmes in your organisation. Like many you probably have well established safety protocols which are well reported and managed systematically but the employee health and wellbeing initiatives are fragmented with a short term focus and not integrated or measured. To show measurable benefits an integrated employee health programme needs to be built into the very DNA of your company and aligned with your broader culture and business goals.
Essential stages in developing an integrated programme into your company should include:
- Planning – Develop a rationale for why strategic integration is important and needed.
- Assessment – Evaluate the current health and safety status of the organisation.
- Implementation – Develop and implement a relevant, integrated strategy and vision.
- Monitoring – Create a system for collecting data with systematic monitoring and evaluation.
- Review – Review progress routinely and take corrective action as needed.
While this commentary may sound simple it is far from simplistic and few organisations are getting this right – the opportunity to get this right and outperform your competitors is achievable but it needs focus and engagement of the whole business working together.
Mike Tyler is Head of Lockton International Benefits and Chair of the Global Benefits Leadership Group. He has been in the financial services and pensions business for over 30 years holding senior positions in the industry including Chief Operating Officer with Mercer where he also set up their employee health and group risk business from scratch. More recently he was FD of a Life Insurance company and immediately before joining Lockton was MD at Buck Consultants.
This article appeared in the recent edition of Cardinus Connect, The Prevention Business. Download it above.