Safety and OSHA News

Would workplace safety benefit from wellness programs?

Want fewer injuries at work? Perhaps your company should encourage employees to join weight loss and exercise programs.

That’s because an Australian study shows obesity usually increases the risk of injury and tends to complicate recovery.

Overall, the researchers found:

  • Obesity negatively affects balance and posture, increasing the risk of falls
  • Obese people are more likely to suffer from breathing-related sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, and that leads to an increase in vehicle crashes
  • There is a correlation between the level of obesity and musculoskeletal injuries, including those of the lower extremities, lower back, wrists and shoulders, and
  • Obesity is associated with overuse syndromes (ex.: carpal tunnel syndrome), work-related injury and osteoarthritis.

More specifically, when it comes to obesity and occupational injury:

  • Odds of sustaining an injury can be as much as twice as high for obese workers compared to their normal-weight counterparts
  • For obese workers, repetitive motions, such as kneeling, squatting and typing, compound cumulative injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome or osteoarthritis
  • Obesity is a risk factor for heat illnesses caused by exertion because a larger body mass results in higher heat production during activity, and a lower ratio of surface area to body mass reduces the ability to lose body heat
  • Protective clothing and equipment may be less likely to be worn by obese workers or be less suitable for them because of poor fit or reduced availability, and
  • The rate of workers’ comp claims for people with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 35 was twice that of normal-weight employees.

The study also noted that while obesity can cause work-related problems, the opposite is also true: Shift work and long hours can lead to obesity.

So it may be time to team up with the person in charge of HR or Benefits regarding your company’s wellness program. The return-on-investment isn’t just on your company’s regular healthcare plan — it can be on your workers’ comp premiums and other costs when employees are injured.

What can companies do about the fact that obese workers are more likely to get injured? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Need some Body Mass Index (BMI) references? Help is available online through charts, calculators and even smartphone apps for the iPhone and android.

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  • Ted Bean

    When I merely suggested during employee refresher safety training that excess weight could be a health risk, I was accused of discrimination against the obese and told to drop the topic.

  • Jane P

    Overweight/obesity is not a diagnosis; it is a symptom. The common judgmental attitude that larger people are lazy, stupid and lack willpower is absolutely false and driven by a multi-billion dollar diet industry.

    Some common causes of obesity:
    Stress – http://ezinearticles.com/?Why-Are-We-Overweight-and-What-is-the-Real-Cause-Behind-Obesity?&id=3690017
    Genetics – http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/09/09/the-real-cause-of-obesity.html
    Untreated illness such as asthma, thyroid disease, PCOD, infertility or the medications that treat these conditions – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003084.htm

    Workplace wellness programs, in order to be successful, need an approachable medical professional who will listen to a workers medical history before sentencing them to 30 days breaking rocks. Most medical professionals either are not aware of the common causes or they dismiss it as making excuses, so the patient can never get adequate treatment.

    It’s the old chicken and egg thing. Which came first, the weight or the illness? It’s likely the illness. So before safety people start making comments about medical conditions, pick on risky behavior that people can easily get diagnosed and treated, such as smoking, alcohol and drug use.