December 2019: Integrating Good Health & Safety Behaviors Into Office Work Processes

Employee Discomfort
  • It’s well-understood (see studies below) why the human body is not designed to remain in static postures for prolonged periods without significant, highly predictable and costly consequences for both employees and their employers.

It’s also scientifically well-understood how employees using computers need to practice good ergonomic behaviors such as adopting neutral postures and microbreaking – in order to mitigate risk factors which
commonly lead to discomfort, impaired productivity, MSDs as well as significant healthcare over-utilization which begins to occur long before injury is realized.

Why Do Employers Devote Attention to Sitting?

First, your organization probably has an active interest in the health and well-being of their employees as a component of Operational Excellence and Sustainability. This is basic good corporate stewardship.

Beyond that, over the past few years employers have discovered that there is a strong correlation and deep-rooted financial connection between the employer’s bottom line and having healthy employees. This is a good first step in a two-step process of corporate financial management.

In fact, as a part of the second step in the two-step process it’s highly likely that your organization already has a variety of Health & Wellness Programs in place to help employees with a wide spectrum of health and lifestyle issues.

Everyone Benefits When Employees Gently Stretch “During Work”
Empowered Employee
  • There’s a wealth of expert advice freely available on the Internet for office employees from highly trusted sources which explains just how important it is to keep moving and stretch periodically during their work time. Beyond sound medical advice, it’s common sense when you take a pause and think about it for a moment.

Some links below are dedicated to stretching while at the computer and others include a section on it. While there are too many sources to list in this venue, just a few include:

Learning to regularly stretch while working, however, is a behavior and not a retained knowledge. In studying human behavior through Applied Behavioral Analysis, we clearly understand how reading that you should do this important behavior does not create an automatic behavior.

What Happens When We Sit For Longer Periods of Time?
  • The National Institutes of Health (link above) explains: “Contrary to popular belief, sitting, which most people believe is relaxing, is hard on the back. Sitting for long periods of time can cause increased pressure on the intervertebral discs— the springy, shock-absorbing part of the spine. Sitting is also hard on the feet and legs. Gravity tends to pool blood in the legs and feet and
    create a sluggish return to the heart.

An excellent data-supported and simply-written article on the topic of sitting at your work can be found at Men’s Health on NBCNews online: “Why Your Desk Job Is Slowly Killing You – Even if you exercise, the more hours a day you sit, the greater your risk of early death“.

A major CNN article, “Sitting for hours can shave years off life“, explains a significant study conducted by the American Cancer Society, whose researchers studied 123,216 people’s health outcomes during a 14-year period. The results match findings in other studies published in The American Journal of Epidemiology.

For a balanced perspective, we turn to Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota who explains that sitting has a biological function rooted in evolutionary need – it’s almost as energy efficient as lying down, but while seated, a person can be vigilant of his or her surroundings. “Sitting is not bad for you in moderation, but in excess it is addictive and harmful,” Levine writes. “Of concern is that for most people in the developed world, chair-living is the norm.

In professional ergonomics and human factors circles, it’s well-understood that sitting for hours at one’s workstation while on the computer builds a painful debt in your Risk Factors Account which is termed
Static Loading.

Clarifying The Point And Opportunity
  • The point of this article has nothing to do with employee mortality
    and we’re not suggesting, of course, that your employees in time
    will start expiring like flies which would be nonsensical. To the
    contrary, this is all about uncovering and really solving a problem.

The issue researched here concerns how poor ergonomic behaviors, fitness and health impact your organization through employee performance, morale and healthcare over-utilization.

For employers, a clear and present financial danger lies in the costs of wide-spread unnecessary healthcare over-utilization due to poor ergonomic behaviors. This can be addressed.

It’s well understood that pre-injury computer-using employees experiencing discomfort consume a considerable amount of healthcare resources beyond obvious productivity loss. What’s more alarming is that healthcare over-utilization is by no means confined to traditionally perceived high-risk groups.

A number of major studies have been published which have examined this topic with many thousands of employees at multiple employers. An example recent research project “Work Loss, Healthcare Utilization, and Costs among US Employees with Chronic Pain” (Disease Management & Health Outcomes, Volume 13, Number 3, 2005 , pp. 201-208(8)), studied thousands of full-time employees and the annual total costs experienced for medical, pharmacy and productivity.

This study was consistent with other recent studies and the authors confirmed: “The findings demonstrate that employees with chronic pain experience frequent sickness absences and short-term disability days and consume a considerable amount of healthcare resources.” The authors concluded: “Given the economic impact of chronic pain, employers and managed care organizations should evaluate the potential benefits in productivity resulting from workplace initiatives such as ergonomic modifications, rest breaks, or pain management programs.

Rx: The Best Position Is The Next Position

According to the American Medical Association, the data clearly shows that becoming just a little more active during your work day can help you:

  • Prevent and control chronic diseases, such as High blood pressure, Heart disease, Stroke, Diabetes, Cancer, Osteoporosis (bone thinning), Stress and anxiety and Depression
  • Feel less tired and have more energy
  • Reduce tension and improve your mood
  • Become stronger
  • Sleep better
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Lose weight
  • Improve balance and prevent injury
Knowledge Training Is Not Behavioral Training
Employee Behavior After training?
  • Many employers today have recently been realizing that simply purchasing adjustable
    furniture and workstation equipment and providing informational training to employees,
    although important steps, is not enough to make good ergonomic behaviors automatic. Subject matter experts call this The Behavioral Wall.

If the “Setup and Inform Model” worked in human behavioral change, then everyone would use seatbelts while driving and there would have been no need for seatbelt reminders to be required in automobiles.

Continuing that thought, almost 100 years of Applied Behavioral Analysis clearly shows that you don’t change people’s behaviors by simply providing adjustable seat belts in cars. You also do not change people’s seat belt behaviors simply by having them take an online course. What’s required and what’s saved millions of lives has been to reinforce the targeted behavior at the point-of-use. Behavior change is all about positive reinforcement at the point-of-use and operant conditioning.

Consider a sobering and illuminating article describing an employee’s perspective on EHS from the San Jose Mercury News: “Of ergonomics and snow cone machines“. The take-away here is not that computer-using employees are slouches or recalcitrant. In fact, they are simply trying to perform their work at the best of their abilities to meet deadlines and objectives and not focused on EH&S and Healthcare Utilization – which is your job and vital for your organization’s financial health more so now than it’s been over the past 20 years.

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