A new study by researchers at the University of Chicago and Harvard, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, sheds new light on the impact on increasingly popular workplace wellness programs on employees’ actual health outcomes. The effectiveness of these programs has not been extensively researched, as they are relatively new and rely on an evolving set of strategies and technologies, and studies so far have drawn mixed conclusions. The new research, Kaiser Health News senior correspondent Julie Appleby explains, had a more sophisticated design than many past studies in this area: The researchers randomly chose 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all their employees, then compared their results with 140 other stores with no program, covering a total study group of almost 33,000 employees.
Unfortunately, the researchers found no significant correlation between the introduction of the wellness program and a strong improvement in employee health:
After 18 months, it turned out that yes, workers participating in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled. But the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance or how long they stuck around in their jobs.
The BJ’s wellness program offered small incentives for participation: Employees could receive about $250 in small-dollar gift cards for taking courses on nutrition, exercise, and other wellness topics. Around 35 percent of eligible employees completed at least one course throughout the duration of the study. One wellness program vendor commented to KHN that the limited impact of the program may have come down to the incentives being too small:
Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, said the incentives offered to BJ’s workers might not have been large enough to spur the kinds of big changes needed to affect health outcomes. Amounts of “of less than $400 generally incentivize things people were going to do anyway. It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about,” he said.
The flu season is upon us in the northern hemisphere, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting this week that the annual spike in influenza cases was just starting (later than usual) and that this year’s flu appeared to be hitting children particularly hard. While this year may not be as bad as last year, when the annual flu vaccine was only about 30 percent effective against the highly virulent H3N2 strain, which put large numbers of Americans in the hospital, the flu is a perennial winter health hazard, particularly in the close confines of a shared workspace. Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that this year’s flu could cost US employers over $17 billion in lost productivity. That’s not as much as the $21 billion it estimated for last year, but still would represent a meaningful dent in the economy:
Last year’s flu season sickened nearly 49 million people, 32.5 million of whom were over the age of 25, according to the CDC’s age breakdown of flu infections for the 2017-18 season. Last season was the worst since 2009, when that year’s H1N1 strain sickened an estimated 60.8 million people, with more than 40 million of those affected over the age of 18.
Challenger predicts 20 million workers could take four eight-hour days away from work due to the flu. Using the current employment-population ratio of 60.6 percent, and the average hourly wage of $27.48, the cost to employers could hit $17,587,200,000 over the course of the season.
The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation is launching a pilot program next month in Montgomery, Ross and Scioto counties “to support employers willing to hire workers struggling to overcome an addiction to opioids and other dangerous substances,” according to a statement from the BWC. In the two-year, $5 million program, the agency will partner with county boards of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health to identify eligible employers and employees, allocate funds, and measure the program’s success. The program will include:
- Reimbursement for pre-employment, random and reasonable suspicion drug testing;
- Training for managers/supervisors to help them better manage a workforce that includes individuals in recovery;
- A forum/venue for “second-chance” employers to share success stories that will encourage others to hire workers in recovery.
Under the program, BWC will allot a lump sum to each ADAMH board on a quarterly basis. Employers must pay for expenses up front and apply to the boards for reimbursement. Program details are still under development, with changes likely as the pilot progresses. The pilot’s launch is scheduled for Oct. 15.
Ohio has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, with addiction, abuse and overdose deaths costing the state between $6.6 billion and $8.8 billion a year, the bureau adds, citing a 2017 report from the Ohio State University, which also estimated that there were likely 92,000 to 170,000 Ohioans abusing or dependent on opioids in 2015. Montgomery County, centered around Dayton, recorded 521 accidental overdose deaths in 2017, the highest in the state for the second year in a row, while the other two counties participating in the pilot programs have often counted large numbers of overdoses in recent years.
The state program will augment ongoing local efforts in Ross County, the Chillicothe Gazette reports:
Amazon is considering opening its own primary health care clinics for employees at its Seattle headquarters, CNBC reported on Thursday, becoming the latest in a series of major US companies pursuing innovative approaches to health care outside the traditional group insurance model. Two people familiar with the confidential discussions told CNBC that the company was planning to start with a pilot clinic for a select group of employees later this year, then expand the program in 2019:
Amazon was previously looking to outsource its clinics and brought vendors in to pitch their services. After numerous rounds of discussions, Amazon ultimately decided to develop clinics internally, one of the people said. Providers including Crossover Health and One Medical offer on-site or nearby services for other companies, including those in the technology sector. …
Amazon started its effort by hiring primary care experts, beginning last year with Christine Henningsgaard, who was previously vice president of operations at One Medical. In January, the company brought in Martin Levine from Iora Health, a primary care group with clinics in Seattle.
If Amazon moves ahead with this plan, it will be pursuing a similar path to Apple, which announced earlier this year that it was establishing a network of health clinics for its employees in and around its headquarters in Cupertino, California. To staff this initiative, Apple has since hired a number of employees away from the provider that operates some of its on-site clinics in other locations, along with a variety of wellness professionals and “care navigators” to help guide patients in choosing the appropriate care for their health needs.
In a new report, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health finds that construction workers made up nearly one quarter of workers in the state who died from opioid-related overdoses between 2011 and 2015. Workers in the farming, fishing, and forestry occupation (mostly fishing) had a similarly high rate of overdose deaths compared to the general population, while warehouse, transportation, maintenance, food service, and health care support workers also died from opioid overdoses at above-average rates.
The study, funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found a noteworthy gender gap in the occupational profiles of overdose victims. Most of the construction workers counted in the study were male, and men in the construction, agricultural, and material moving occupations experienced opioid-related deaths at a higher than average rate for male workers in Massachusetts. Among women, however, the highest rates were among healthcare support and food preparation/service workers.
A common thread among the occupations with high rates of overdose deaths is a greater propensity for workplace injuries in these industries, the report notes:
The rate of fatal opioid-related overdose was higher among workers employed in industries and occupations known to have high rates of work-related injuries and illnesses. This finding is consistent with previous research documenting common use of prescribed opioids for management of acute and chronic pain following work-related injury. The rate was also higher among workers in occupations with lower availability of paid sick leave and lower job security. More in-depth research is needed to characterize the potential contribution of these factors to opioid misuse and overdose.
Experts and advocates for occupational safety in Massachusetts tell the Boston Globe they’re not surprised by these findings:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the US Department of Labor has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that “would amend OSHA’s recordkeeping regulation by rescinding the requirement for establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit information from OSHA Forms 300 and 301”:
OSHA is amending its recordkeeping regulations to protect sensitive worker information from potential disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). OSHA has preliminarily determined that the risk of disclosure of this information, the costs to OSHA of collecting and using the information, and the reporting burden on employers are unjustified given the uncertain benefits of collecting the information. OSHA believes that this proposal maintains safety and health protections for workers while also reducing the burden to employers of complying with the current rule.
OSHA illness, injury, and fatality reporting rules was introduced under the Obama administration in 2014 and 2016, requiring employers to report work-related fatalities and severe injuries to the administration and later to electronically submit injury and illness information to OSHA annually. The new administration’s rationale for the regulatory change is that “the electronic collection of case-specific forms … adds uncertain enforcement value, but poses a potential privacy risk under FOIA,” the notice states.
New government data from the UK indicates that employees there are taking sick days off work at a historically low rate, Workplace Insight’s Neil Franklin reports:
A new report from the Office for National Statistics suggests that the number of sickness days taken by UK workers has almost halved over the past two decades to reach a record low. It dropped from an average of 7.2 days in 1993 to 4.1 days in 2017, and had been steadily falling since 1999. The total days lost for all workers last year was 131.2 million, down from 137.3 million in 2016 and 178.3 million in 1993. Since the recession, sickness absence rates have declined by 0.5 percentage points to 1.9 per cent last year. The reasons are not explored in the report but one possible explanation would be the growing number of people prepared to work when they should really take time off.
A report published in May by the CIPD and SimplyHealth on the state of health and wellbeing in the UK workplace found that presenteeism (workers showing up to work even when sick) was a growing problem, with 86 percent of employers saying they had seen staff come into work while sick over the previous year. That marked a significant increase from 72 percent in 2016 and just 26 percent in 2010, yet the same survey found that only a quarter of organizations that had seen signs of presenteeism had taken steps to mitigate it. The CIPD/SimplyHealth report also found that many employees were working while they were supposed to be on vacation, while other recent studies have suggested that many full-time UK employees aren’t taking the full paid leave benefit to which they are entitled.
Presenteeism could well be a factor in the trend identified by the ONS, Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, told Ashleigh Wight at Personnel Today.