Employers have a vested interest in their employees’ health. As the dominant health insurance provider, employers are continuing to experience rising healthcare costs and wondering how to influence this trend. An important part of influencing healthcare costs is to understand your employee populations and their differences.
For example, women in the workplace face different health issues than men. Women in general have higher incidences of work-related cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, respiratory diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases and anxiety and stress disorders. Socio-economic and culture factors have an impact as well because, according to the Centers for Disease Control National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), women are more likely to work part-time or temporary jobs and have less income and benefits.
This article will outline some of the common conditions impacting women in your employee populations and offers suggestion for how to combat them.
An employee in pain is a distracted employee. Musculoskeletal pain has an impact on business whether in the form of sick days or lowered productivity, and these disorders are prevalent among women in the workforce. The NIOSH reports that women suffer from carpal tunnel and sprains more frequently based on the type of work they commonly do as well as muscular and other biological differences. Women working in offices who constantly use their fingers, hands and wrists doing data entry eight hours a day are prime targets for carpal tunnel, tendonitis and sprain issues. Also, women working on assembly lines doing repetitive movements frequently experience musculoskeletal injuries.
Having periodic stretch breaks along with proper ergonomic equipment and movements can reduce muscle fatigue and maintain job performance. Many stress injuries to the hands are caused by repetitive motions, placing too much stress on certain points of the body and too much twisting. To prevent serious injury, ask employees to take the following precautions:
Cut down on unnecessary movements whenever possible by arranging your workstation so that the objects and materials you use most often are closest to you.
Adjust the angle of your work surface to keep your hands and wrists in a neutral position. Where necessary, use an ergonomic wrist support for the keyboard and mouse.
Give your elbows and wrists a rest periodically throughout the day. Stretch regularly to keep your muscles loose.
Keep your limbs and shoulders as relaxed as possible to avoid excess tension.
Try to change your position throughout the day. One of the best preventive actions you can take is to vary your position.
Many women in more hands-on jobs, such as the construction trades, complain of ill-fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing (PPC). Clothing or equipment that is not sized properly or does not fit can compromise personal safety and the protection offered. It also may not function effectively in the manner for which it was designed. This can cause serious health and safety risks for women. Ill-fitting PPE may be due to unavailability (e.g., manufacturers don't make it or distributors don't stock it), limited availability or lack of knowledge among employers and workers about where to obtain equipment designed for a woman's body structure.
Studies have shown that tools, materials and equipment also should be designed based in part on ergonomic considerations. Tools and equipment, like clothing, are often designed to be used by average-sized men.
Handle size and tool weight are designed to accommodate the size and strength of men, yet the average hand length of women is 0.8 inches shorter than the average man's. A woman’s grip strength averages two-thirds of the power of a man's grip. The grips of tools are typically too thick. Tools like pliers require a wide grasp, which puts too much pressure on the palm, leading to the loss of functional efficiency. In addition, women do not receive training on how best to use tools and equipment designed for men. Therefore:
The design of PPE and PPC for women should be based on female measurements.
Union apprenticeship programs should provide female construction workers with resources on where to find equipment and clothing that fits.
Employers should make sure that all workers of all sizes have well-fitting PPE and PPC for safe and efficient performance.
It should be accepted that some workers need to use different lifting and material handling techniques.
According to the NIOSH, job stress-related illness is twice as high for women than men. Job conditions attribute to stress such as little control over work, job insecurity, poor relationships with co-workers and supervisors and repetitive and monotonous work. Stressors unique to women are gender bias and being the primary caregivers to their children and aging parents.
Job stress needs to be taken seriously because untreated stress can lead to cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, headaches, depression and anxiety. Mental health may not have hard costs related to healthcare but can lead to disability costs and a decrease in productivity. Providing and promoting stress management resources can help employees deal with stress. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can help create open environments to discuss mental health issues, and look for pockets of high turnover departments which can be a sign of job related stress.
Risk management and human resources are traditionally two different job functions, and the people in these areas have rarely crossed paths — but that is changing.
Why are these people starting to work together more frequently?
Foth Companies, headquartered in Green Bay, Wis., understands the link between the company’s success and the well-being of its employees. Implementing a wellness program called “Workin’ Well” featuring health risk assessments (HRAs) is one way the company is demonstrating its commitment to employees.
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