EHS? HSE? SHE? No matter which acronym you prefer, they all reflect an interdependency between health, safety and environmental protection and promotion. HSE professionals often focus on safety and environmental issues outside of the work environment; for example, by promoting recycling or advising against distracted driving. Yet those same professionals often get skittish when it comes to promoting health outside the office, either citing lack of resources or not wanting to be too involved in employees’ lives.
If we consider that people are at work approximately eight hours a day, it means they are spending twice that amount of time outside of work, with their families and interacting with other people and organizations. During these non-working hours, lifestyle behaviors can greatly impact health, which can result in risks that inadvertently end up back in the workplace. If people are fatigued at work because they aren’t sleeping, are stressed out, or aren’t eating well, it becomes a direct safety risk in the workplace. In fact, getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night has been shown to result in a similar cognitive impairment as drinking two martinis.
In many organizations, work has been done to reduce ergonomic risk factors at work. However, there are many lifestyle behaviors – healthy eating, tobacco cessation and physical activity – that also impact musculoskeletal health, perhaps even more than the workplace risk factors. Certainly, if either the workplace ergonomic risk factors or the individual lifestyle factors are ignored, the outcome is the potential for musculoskeletal injury. In attacking the root cause of these injuries, lifestyle behaviors simply cannot be ignored.
Research indicates that more than 70 percent of chronic disease conditions are related to lifestyle, so supporting healthy behaviors promotes healthier employees and can reduce the risk of a workplace injury. By reducing individual risk factors through the promotion of healthier lifestyle behaviors, and addressing the controllable factors in our work environments, organizations have the power to further reduce health and safety risk.
Given the interdependency between health, safety and environment, a focus on improved lifestyles and disease prevention is a valuable addition to every HSE professional’s toolkit.
Kelli Smith. Director – Corporate Occupational Health. Cummins Inc.