The fastest way to cut back on your workers’ compensation claim rates may be to install a salad bar.  According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, nearly 63% of workers are classified as overweight or obese defined by having a body mass index (BMI) over 25%.  And, according to another study by Duke University, BMI is the best indicator of work-related claims frequency and severity.

The numbers are staggering in comparison: “Obese workers lost an average of almost 184 work days per 100 employees, compared with just over 14 per 100 for those with a normal BMI. Obese workers had average medical claim costs of $51,019 per 100 workers, compared with $7,503 for non-obese employees.” And, other studies have shown that workers’ compensation claims involving obese and overweight employees have higher indemnity costs associated with them. Disability claims of obese injured workers resulted in indemnity benefit durations five times longer than similar claims involving normal weight injured workers.

Why the difference between the two groups?  Obesity may delay surgery and thereby lengthen medical treatment periods.  Obese workers may need specialized medical devices or recovery aids that healthy weight employees might be able to buy off the shelf. Obese employees also may have other diseases related to their obesity, such as diabetes or high cholesterol that complicate treatment of their injuries. For example, diabetes may delay incision healing in surgery.

While it may be tempting to view obesity as a complicating issue to treatment, and therefore conclude that complications from it shouldn’t be covered by workers’ compensation (since obesity doesn’t arise out of employment), many medical groups, such as the American Medical Association and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services view obesity as a disease.

the claimant participates in a weight-reduction program or undergoes gastric bypass surgery. Physicians may also recommend weight-loss programs after treatment for the work-related condition has been completed. As a result, an increasing number of jurisdictions are holding that obesity-related medical treatments should be covered as part of the compensable work-related injury.

Certain claims are more affected by BMI than others. That may mean, certain industries or job activities are more affected than others. According to the Duke Study, back pain and strain, hip, knee, wrist or hand strain and sprains, falls and slips were more common in obese individuals.  The study recommended healthy living activities as a complement to workplace safety to reduce workers’ compensation claims. Some of those healthy living activities suggested include healthier cafeteria food, like salad bars, having a gym on the premises, and encouraging movement during work breaks.

How can you implement healthy living activities in your workplace to reduce obesity and save on related workers’ compensation costs? Here are a few tips from workers’ compensation experts.

  • Use your internal communications plan to provide healthy living reminders to your employees, including using email, flyers and mailers.
  • Make a date of it – offer free healthy cooking classes for employees (and their partners) and provide them with take home cookbooks or packets of dinner ideas.
  • Up your snack game – offer only healthy options at committees and safety meetings, including bars, juices, and veggie trays.
  • Make it easy – Increase the number of refrigerators and microwaves so that it is as easy as possible for employees to bring their own lunches, instead of eating out.
  • Hydration 101 – add water coolers, filters or bottles to more locations, making it easier for employees to keep topped up.
  • Hydration 102 – make reusable water bottles available to all employees, vendors and guests. Even better? Add reminders on how many refills per day to the bottles (i.e., a 20 ounce bottle should be refilled at least three times day).
  • Softball, Basketball, Dodgeball, Every ball: Make leagues and sports teams easier for employees to join.
  • Make lunch more flexible: Adding a few extra minutes to an hour lunch break may allow employees to work out, change in addition to taking a break to eat.
  • Add Wellness to Safety Committee agendas in a way that sounds like your workers. For example, “mindfulness” or “meditation” may sound too off putting, but “breathing” or “centering” might be useful.

Workers’ Compensation carriers also suggest that you focus on prevention in your wellness program. In exchange, those carriers will reduce premium costs. They suggest offering incentives to employees to quit smoking, change their eating habits and get more physical activity.  They also recommend evaluating your wellness or healthy living programs frequently.