Today’s workplace health challenges are not to be underrated, overlooked or ignored. One major reason is that the nature of work is changing at a very rapid pace, due in large part to advances in technology. Another reason is that already soaring health care costs continue to climb, affecting workers, both at the workplace as well as away from it.
Some work-related health challenges involve reducing high incidences of accidents, injuries, workplace violence and deaths. Others involve decreasing illness and disease.
Today’s challenges increasingly encourage individuals, companies, health agencies, and local, state and federal government to work together in partnership to make healthy, safe workplaces a national reality.
Statistics, studies and surveys help identify workplace challenges and support the need to find ways to most effectively address them. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), for example, 4,383 workers died on the job last year from falls and other accidents and injuries, while the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that 22 million workers continue to be exposed to potentially damaging noise each year, while four million work each day in damaging noise that can lead to hearing impairment and loss.
Furthermore, a study conducted by the St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company found that problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than any other life stressor, more so than even family or financial problems.
Additionally, the Northwestern National Life Insurance Company referred to employee burnout as America’s newest epidemic, highlighting the role of work-related stress and its detrimental influence on motivation, productivity and job satisfaction.
Technology, while aimed toward developing more manageable and effective processes, has also added new health challenges. One example of this is increasing reports by doctors involving patients’ use of computers and cell phones. Symptoms have frequently indicated cubital tunnel syndrome, or “cellphone elbow,” as it is commonly called.
Additionally, the National Institutes of Occupational Health (NIOSH), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and other organizations continue to research and address possible health risks associated with use of cellphones, microwaves, computers and other radiation-emitting products used at the workplace and in the home.
Today’s workplace challenges are also being taken up by legislators and the community leaders and concerned citizens who support them. One of these, the Healthier Lifestyles and Prevention America Act (HeLP America) sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin, addresses critical public interest and prevention initiatives to champion healthier communities as well as healthier workplaces.
Another example of proposed legislation to address today’s workplace health challenges is the Healthy Workplace Bill that attempts to enact anti-bullying laws throughout the nation using a state-by-state approach. The bill defines an “abusive work environment” and also defines workplace bullying as: 1) verbal abuse, 2) offensive conduct and verbal as well as non-verbal behaviors that are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, and 3) job interference or sabotage which prevents work from being done.
Many of today’s workplace health promotion programs and much of the current proposed workplace health laws are not new. Such programs and legislation have been initiated or introduced in the past, but without sufficient support or opportunities to realize success or growth.
However, due to today’s rapidly changing workplace and the soaring costs of health insurance and treatment, including costly prescription and over-the-counter medications, it is expected that individuals and groups will work in partnership with businesses, organizations and government to increasingly address workplace health challenges. Results of such action could more effectively protect the American worker as well as ultimately enhance the quality of life for an entire society.