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March 4, 2021

Seeing red: How to mitigate heart disease in the construction industry

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Why is being heart healthy important for the construction industry? Direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular diseases and stroke total more than $316.6 billion in 2018. That includes health expenditures and lost productivity. At the same time, construction workers are increasingly overweight. The Centers for Disease Control notes that 71 percent of construction workers were either obese or overweight compared to 63 percent for all industries combined. Obesity increases the risk for injuries and illnesses, including heart disease.

What can be done?

To help curb the trend, more emphasis is being placed on proactive measures with employers leading that charge. Traditionally, many organizations have focused on the total health of their population through safety programs, and/or separate wellness initiatives. It is time to take that one step further and integrate the two initiatives together to really impact the health of your workforce.

We typically find that wellness and safety programs operate in silos – human resources focuses on a wellness program in an effort to lower overall health care costs and the risk management team focuses on a safety program in an effort to lower workers’ compensation costs. Both areas work to protect the well-being of employees. In theory this sounds wonderful, however, the model fails to acknowledge that employees with chronic health conditions, for example obesity and heart disease, often have more frequent and costly workers’ compensation claims.

By breaking down the silos and integrating these initiatives, employers are in a much better position to realize effective and sustainable cost containment.

What are some ways that construction companies can combine efforts? Here are two quick examples:

  • Back Injury Prevention: A safety program can focus on ergonomic improvements and employee training related to proper body mechanics. The wellness piece will then focus on obesity reduction, which greatly increases the potential for a back injury and other medical complications. With a combination of these efforts, organizations can see a reduction in back injuries, which will result in lower claim costs and greater productivity.

  • High Blood Pressure and Stress: This impacts both safe behavior and decision-making on the job, as well as significant health issues. This health issue can minimize the effectiveness of safety training and also spike use of health care services. Providing on-site dieticians or access to health consultants, and combining it with proper jobsite techniques will help in lowering stress.

How to Make the Program Successful
Ensuring leadership is visible and leads by example is one the largest factors in ensuring a combined safety and wellness effort is successful. This includes stressing the importance of preventative screenings to identify risks like heart disease and obesity. Another way is to incorporate both wellness and safety into the company culture. The philosophy of a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Employees need to feel ownership and see that your organization is serious about improving the health and well-being of the workforce, especially as it relates to heart disease.

Also, incorporate a varied communication approach to show how the program will benefit each employee individually. When workers are out on jobsites communication remains critical.

Do not forget to define success. Since these programs are a long-term commitment, the value does not always impact the bottom line immediately. Most importantly, though, make wellness and safety fun by providing incentives and highlighting achievements.

Your construction company does not have to do this all on their own. Partner with groups like the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA hosts an event called Hard Hats for Hearts that specifically addresses heart risks within the construction industry and provides a networking platform for companies actively working to reduce those risks. The event raised over $430,000 in its inaugural year to help with funding programs and research. The AHA also has plenty of ways to get involved in their ‘Go Red’ campaign in February, which can be geared towards women in the construction industry.

Why Heart Disease
Wellness programs are great for catching and mitigating a number of health-related issues and can be combined with safety initiatives to really make an impact. However, heart disease is one area in particular that needs to be called out. With construction leading or in the top sector of industries in terms of obesity, smoking and alcohol-abuse, it is time to really drive change.

Reach out to your Marsh & McLennan Agency representative for assistance on your jobsite or for information on employee health and benefit or wellness program options.