Liliana Tenney is the co-director of Health Links Colorado at the Center for Worker Health and Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health.
With National Public Health Week upon us, promoting safety and health in the workplace is an essential ingredient toward improving the overall well-being of Coloradans.
The focus of this year's National Public Health Week is "Public Health is ROI: Saves Lives, Saves Money." On April 3, the theme of the day is "Creating A Healthy Workplace," with an emphasis on how wellness and safety are good for health and business.
Numerous studies have made the case for keeping our workforce safe, healthy and productive. Throughout the country, companies face a rapidly aging workforce. Public health initiatives target epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions.
Today, more than ever, there is evidence that creating a healthy workplace can produce positive effects on employees' health, medical costs and productivity. Simply put, prevention makes good business sense. Case in point: obesity among full-time employees costs businesses $73 billion a year. Research also shows that medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar invested in a worksite wellness program. Yet despite such positive evidence, only 27 percent of small businesses participate in employer-sponsored wellness programs.
Barriers regarding costs, time, participation and resources can prevent new health promotion programs from getting off the ground.
More high-quality research is needed to identify recommendations and strategies specific to small businesses. One size does not fit all. For an employer focused on the bottom line, taking on the challenge of wellness can be overwhelming. However, taking simple steps toward that direction can make the idea of a healthy workplace more approachable. By adopting some of the fundamentals, small businesses can set themselves up for success.
Six essential elements proven to support healthy workplaces include:
Secure senior level management support
Understand what the needs are within your company to design a program that addresses what is most important
Form a wellness team of people from your company who are interested and passionate
Establish goals and objectives
Allocate some resources to get things started
Collect information on participation and listen to employee feedback to make changes
Health outcomes for Colorado employers and employees span across work, home and community — establishing a need for a coordinated effort to develop integrated, comprehensive ways for small businesses to adopt and implement sustainable health and wellness programs.