Few of us need to be sold on the merits of greater collaboration. But if there were any doubts about what it’s able to bring to the areas of health and safety, Dr. Casey Chosewood put them to rest yesterday morning during his opening keynote speech at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® in Las Vegas.
“Too many organizations today still have silos [that] are unconnected,” said Chosewood, chief medical officer and director of the Office for Total Worker Health Coordination and Research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (part of the Centers for Disease Control). “But that has to change. We have to put everything under one umbrella and take a more integrated approach.”
Remarkable things can happen when each of the components talk to one another, align their goals, understand the financial challenges of others and work on finding solutions, Chosewood told the packed room of attendees.
Of course, in the world of business, the elimination of silos, as a concept, comes up a lot. But it seems to be an especially powerful idea when it’s applied to safety and health.
Early in his talk, Chosewood took a few minutes to touch on the Ebola outbreak, which is also the subject of Carol Harnett’s Benefits Column posted earlier this week.
“I’m frequently asked if the CDC has a handle on the problem,” Chosewood said, “and that’s a fair question.”
As of today, he explained, there have been eight cases of Ebola in the United States, compared to 14,000 known cases in West Africa (a figure he believes is probably closer to between 20,000 and 28,000).
Chosewood said the CDC believes the risk of Ebola here in the United States remains very low, though he added that doesn’t negate the seriousness of the disease and the need to put “more resources on the ground in West Africa” to address it.
Returning to the focus of his talk, Chosewood said people would be mistaken were they to think they could separate work and home as far as health and well-being are concerned. “You can’t leave what happens at home on the kitchen table [just as] you can’t leave what happens at work on your desk. You shuttle them back and forth.”
Chosewood cited the example of a person who works in a factory who is exposed to lead and then brings it home to an unsuspecting child on the surface of his or her clothing. “Risks don’t just stay in one place,” he said.
During his talk, Chosewood also touched on the importance of changing the culture of the organization. Quoting Sir Michael Marmot (a professor at the University College London), he said it’s “unreasonable to expect people to change their behavior when the social, cultural and physical environments around them fully conspire against them.”
Chosewood shared a close-to-home illustration of the kinds of steps that can be taken.
When the CDC ran out of places to park and needed to build a new parking garage, Chosewood (then in charge of safety and health there) said he intentionally proposed picking a site that required workers to walk 15 minutes. While the move initially made him quite unpopular and existing employees complained about the distance, he said, new hires haven’t complained at all.
In addressing health and safety issues, he said, employers need to be willing to take “short-term heat” for “long-term gain.”
Chosewood said next on the Center’s to-do list will be to slow down the elevators so impatient workers will take the stairs. (I wasn’t sure if he was serious or kidding.)
According to Chosewood, there are three kinds of companies: bad, good and the best. Bad companies, he said, don’t do anything to keep their workers healthy and safe; good companies keep them protected from injury and illness; and the best do what’s needed to ensure their workers go home more healthy at the end of the day.
Employers that fall in this “best” category, he said, will enjoy more engagement, greater productivity and lower injury risk.Twitter It!