Increasingly, thought leaders in the traditional sectors of health and safety are advancing the question: Could health improvements translate to safety improvements, safety improvements translate to health improvements, and the synergies gained by integrating the two create significantly healthier workplaces?
The perfect storm is looming and companies will have to change how they look at their health and safety programs to ensure integration of bottom line objectives with their overall employee and workplace health, safety and well-being goals. Today, most companie 's health protection programs (safety) are separated from health promotion programs (health). The two programs are from two drastically different organizational divisions and schools of thought and; as such, impedes their effectiveness to maximize the overall health and productivity of the workforce.
In recent decades, U.S. employers have made significant progress in addressing issues of health and safety in the workplace. Since 1970, workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent and injury and illness rates have declined by 67 percent, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Worker deaths have been reduced from approximately 38 per day in 1970 to 12 per day in 2012.1
During this time, major safety improvements have been made through the use of risk assessment, medical surveillance examinations, safety training, improved protective equipment, better mechanical safety engineering and other physical changes in the workplace, and a host of other factors. These include efforts by labor and management to address safety issues more comprehensively, the rise of new governmental agencies focused on safety, and an increase in research and education devoted to safety. The establishment of OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 1970 was also an important factor. Over time, employers adopted safety as a company value and built what came to be known as a "culture of safety" among their employees.
Coinciding with these advances in safety was the rise of a workplace wellness movement in the United States, driven in part by rising health care costs in the 1970s and 1980s.2 As costs increased, employers began to introduce "worksite health promotion" programs on a large scale in an effort to keep their employees healthier and thus reduce health-care cost impacts on their employee health plans.