Health, Wellness, and Workplace Safety

Workplace safety is a topic of growing concern in the United States. Workplace fatalities have been increasing nationally. In response, organizations are devoting a substantial share of time and attention to innovating workplace safety.  A major contemporary trend in workplace safety is an orientation toward total health and wellness. Even firms in the industrial, manufacturing, and energy sectors are becoming more aware of the need to invest in their employees’ health and wellness. This thinking represents a substantial shift from how organizations approached workplace safety even 20 years ago.

An Eastern Kentucky University’s infographic on “The Current State of Workplace Safety in the US” gives a clear picture of the changing philosophy of workplace safety. As it says, “historically, the view of workplace safety has been based on detection, not prevention, and on the belief that unsafe actions cause… accidents at work.” It also says, “this approach has not resulted in much improvement in workplace safety statistics over the past 15 years.” Recognizing these trends, safety directors have become more concerned with understanding the entire working system. This has brought a greater concern with human capital and a focus on workers’ mental health, issues with substance abuse, and job stress. As the health consultancy Trifit notes, even the manufacturing sector is starting to appreciate the gains in productivity that benefits such as healthy lunches and open vacation time provides. The overall trend in workplace safety is the realization that the best way to keep employees safe is to keep them well.

With this appreciation of an employee’s whole health and wellness is an increased focus on sustainability. Sustainability can refer to the popular environmentalist sense of sustainability — companies wasting less and recycling more — or to the worker-centered idea of long-term health and safety in the workplace. A recent Occupational Health and Safety Administration report details firms that meet the “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and profit to achieve long-term success. Several organizations servicing industrial and manufacturing needs have become exemplars of sustainability just by virtue of their business models. They include everything from Oregon appliance repair to Utah’s Pro Recycling Group. Both organizations enable sustainability by encouraging reuse within the industrial lifecycle.

Another trend representative of these changes is the advent of “microlearning,” according to the trade magazine IndustrySafe. About 77 percent of Americans have access to a smartphone. Safety departments are using these devices as training tools. Workers access two- to five-minute “microlearning” courses through their phones. The courses are also available if the worker needs a refresher on a particular safety procedure. For example, if a company has sent a repairman to fix a steam boiler manufactured a few years ago, that repairman can watch a video of important safety information to remember before beginning on Kunkle valves. Since these microlearning courses are integrated as an application on the worker’s device, they can be activated to send workers “push notifications” at a certain time of the day, or before a worker is scheduled to start a specific task. A distributed technology such as mobile-enabled microlearning allows organizations to invest in their human capital in a human-centered way. Rather than call employees in for remedial or recurrent training sessions, the training can be replayed anytime.

Adam Torkildson