The workers' compensation session agenda here at RIMS 2014 appears to be significantly lighter than in previous years, so I suppose it is appropriate that one session I could attend was covering a heavy issue for the industry. The session, titled "Obesity Weighs Down Workers' Compensation", was held Tuesday morning here in Denver.
In retrospect I probably should not have gone in with a dozen doughnuts. Also, as advice to those of you who may attend a similar session in the future; when the speakers call for questions, don't ask if ice cream will be served afterwards. They don't appreciate it.
The first half of this session was actually quite useful. Kevin Glennon of One Call Care Management presented some very interesting observations for employers dealing with the growing issue of obesity in the workplace. His advice was particularly useful in a proactive sense. In talking about properly equipping employees to avoid injury, he provided a magic number for employers to watch for. That number was 250 pounds.
Glennon told the audience that by general measures, standard equipment (chairs, straps, ladders, etc.) could be utilized for employees up to 250 pounds (Yes! I still get to use a normal chair! No bariatric toilet for me!). Once over that threshold, however, he advised employers to assess what might be needed to avoid injury for those larger employees. He cited one instance of a chair collapsing on a 700 pound employee because the employer failed to recognize that a standard office chair was not designed to support his weight; Or the employee who snapped a wall mounted toilet off the wall (that would be a crappy experience). He provided other examples that were not so extreme, but all served to remind us that an ounce of prevention is indeed literally worth a pound of cure - an adage most appropriate to the topic at hand.
I've been to sessions discussing the challenges that obesity brings to a workers' compensation claim, but I've never really heard someone speak in such a proactive sense on the topic. It was a good reminder that the least expensive accident is the one that never happens.
Glennon also provided some eye opening statistics on this big "fat" problem. The incidence of obesity in the US has soared from 13% of our population to over 34% in just the last 50 years. Those "morbidly" obese rose from 0.9% to 6% in the same period. As a nation we spend $5 billion a year in additional jet fuel just to fly our fat asses around the country - this compared to average 1960 weights. I should note that the average seat size has NOT increased since 1960, which explains the declining comfort of flying these days.
Absentee costs are significantly higher for the obese. The costs of accommodation equipment is also significantly higher. A bariatric chair designed to hold 500 pounds is over $1,000. So is a bariatric toilet designed to hold 700 pounds. Obese workers file twice the number of workers' comp claims as their non-obese counterparts, and their medical costs average 7 times higher. Their missed days from work injury are 13 times higher, so indemnity costs are also significantly affected.
It is clear that obesity is a weighty problem for workers' compensation.
Unfortunately, the second part of the session, while providing interesting information, likely failed to provide truly helpful guidance to employers in the room. Kate Wolin from Loyola University Chicago School of Medicine reviewed the problems of obesity and how individuals can best lose weight. What was not clear from her presentation was what employers can really do to have any real impact on the process. The most helpful point of her presentation was to suggest employers look at the "Obesogenic Environment of the workplace", to see what they can do to encourage a healthier lifestyle for employees. The Obesogenic Environment includes everything from what type of snacks and food are available onsite to what type of neighborhood your facilities are located in as well as what activity levels your employees can engage in while on the job.
Wolin really focused on the importance of controlling calorie intake, saying the type of diet one selects really is not as important from a pure weight loss perspective. She indicated they all worked by getting the dieter to eat a reduced amount of calories. To emphasize that point, she showed some dramatic results from one of their researchers who went through what was called the "Twinkie Diet". For 10 weeks that researcher ate nothing but Twinkies, Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Doritos, sugary cereals and Oreos every three hours. He consumed less than 1800 calories a day and lost 27 pounds. His Body Mass Index dropped to normal, LDL dropped 20%, HDL increased 20%, and triglycerides dropped 39%.
I'll be honest, when I heard that I almost dropped my Tootsie Roll. Personally I've never been so enthused about dieting in my life. Learning that little secret was worth the entire effort, I assure you.
Beyond that gem she provided good information on how an individual can lose weight safely (eat fewer calories and exercise more), but did not necessarily connect with a clear employer strategy in my mind.
Still, there was some thought provoking discussion in this session, and as indicated much of it was from a proactive pre-injury perspective. Obesity is a problem that will weigh heavy on the industry in coming decades. We can wail and blubber about it (literally) or we can step up in a proactive sense to buy stronger chairs and reinforce our toilets.
After all, with the growing trends in obesity, we have met the fatties, and they is us.....
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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Bob is an accomplished speaker for the workers' compensation industry. He is available for conferences, corporate events, children's birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs. You may access his Speakers Brief here.