Wellness at Work

Study Identifies Workers at Highest Risks for Obesity

Study findings could help employers target wellness efforts.
By: | May 12, 2014 • 2 min read

Truck drivers and protective service workers in Washington state are at high risk of obesity while employees in the natural and social sciences, post-secondary teaching, and attorney and judicial occupations are at the low end, according to new research. The findings may serve as a guide for employers to target wellness programs to specific workplaces.

Information related to the prevalence of and risk factors for worker obesity by occupation are scarce. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studied more than 37,000 workers in Washington state to help the prioritization of workplace wellness programs.

“According to the 2007 and 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the obesity prevalence among all workers was 26.1 percent in Washington State, similar to the national average of 27.0 percent, making the workplace a valuable opportunity to prevent obesity and promote health,” the research states. “Effective workplace health intervention programs will lower absenteeism and health care costs, improve health conditions and health behaviors of employees, and improve worker productivity.”


The scientists surveyed workers in odd numbered years from 2003 to 2009. They estimated obesity risk by occupational groups adjusting for things such as demographics, occupational physical activity level, smoking, fruit and vegetable consumption, and leisure time physical activity.

“Workers whose occupational physical activities were physically demanding, involving movement and heavy labor, had significantly lower prevalence of obesity compared with those with nonphysically demanding jobs,” the researchers wrote. “Occupations with a high prevalence of obesity had a lower prevalence of vigorous leisure time physical activity, a lower prevalence of adequate fruit and vegetable consumption and a higher prevalence of smoking.”

The researchers hope the findings will help influence stakeholders as they develop workplace wellness programs. Also, they said it can aid in decisions about allocations of public health resources to high-risk worker groups most likely to benefit.

“Poor health behaviors can lead to chronic disease. Workers with chronic disease may be at higher risk for workplace injury, have more absenteeism, and diminished productivity at work. Once injured, workers with chronic diseases take a longer time to return to work,” the study says. “So the best strategy would be for employers to promote healthy behaviors to prevent the occurrence of these chronic diseases.”

Employers looking for appropriate ways to promote healthier workers are advised to consult the NIOSH Total Worker Health program, which advances the integration of health protection and health promotion in the workplace. The goal is to improve the quality and safety of work and empower employees for better health-related decision-making.

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]