By Julie Sneider, Assistant Editor
The birth of worksite wellness programs dates back decades, when skyrocketing health insurance costs prompted businesses to find new ways to contain employee health expenses and reduce absenteeism due to illness. Employers began promoting good-health practices among their workers by offering health-risk appraisals and incentives to lose weight, exercise more and stop smoking.
But at CSX Corp.
, the employee health and wellness program is more than an attempt to save on health-care expenses or cut absenteeism. It’s also intrinsically linked to a core company value: Safety.
The thinking: A healthier employee makes for a safer employee.
“Staying safe on the job is CSX’s No. 1 priority for employees — but aiding their general health overall is a close second,” CSX officials wrote in the company’s most recent “Corporate and Social Responsibility” report.
The Class I’s health and wellness program has evolved over the past decade. It’s now designed to promote safety as a way of life, says Kenneth Glover, CSX director of health, wellness and human performance.
For Glover and the CSX wellness staff, that means answering the question: What do employees need to be physically and mentally prepared to do their jobs?
During the past year, Glover has used the program to emphasize the concept of railroad workers as “industrial athletes.” Just as sports athletes must have a certain level of physical health in order to compete, industrial athletes have to maintain a certain level of health in order to safely perform their jobs. At CSX, the health and wellness program zeroes in on muscular endurance, muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and body composition, Glover says.
CSX is trying to get employees to think along those lines as soon as they join the company. At the CSX Railroad Education and Development Institute Center in Atlanta, where most new employees go for job training and professional development, new hires learn how a person’s health and overall fitness relates to job preparation and performance.
When Glover joined the company in 2004, CSX offered some health and wellness activities but not an organized program. It was Glover's job to develop one. He got started by offering health risk assessments; cholesterol, glucose and blood-pressure screenings; and measurements of height, weight and body mass index. Programs were developed and tailored to meet the workforce’s needs. Today, CSX employees have access to company wellness coordinators, registered dieticians and exercise specialists who help them address their health risks, get in shape, eat a better diet and eliminate unhealthy behaviors such as tobacco use. The company performs about 8,000 health risk assessments annually, Glover estimates.
CSX also invests capital dollars into the effort. The company has opened 37 health-and-wellness centers at its larger worksites, and has plans to open even more at some of its smaller locations, Glover says. The centers offer commercial-grade workout equipment and exercise classes designed to accommodate employees’ varied work schedules. And, for people who don’t like to exercise in a gym, CSX offers other fitness activities, including “Small Steps,” which provides employees with pedometers to track how much they’re walking per day.
The company also has installed “walking work stations” in some offices so that people whose jobs require a lot of desk work can exercise on a treadmill fitted with a computer, enabling them to check email while they walk.
For Carla Groleau, the CSX Health and Wellness Center couldn’t be more conveniently located: It’s across the hall from her office inside the company’s Jacksonville, Fla., headquarters.
“I really enjoy taking the group classes,” says Groleau, CSX director of corporate communications. “I try to hit the gym on my lunch hour at least four days a week.”
If she can’t make it to one of the daily classes, she’ll work out on the center’s exercise equipment.
“But I do focus on getting to the group classes because it involves a little peer pressure. I’ll hear a co-worker say, ‘Hey, are you going to be in class today?’ And that really helps keep me motivated.”
Participation in CSX’s health and wellness program is voluntary, so motivation to stay on a course toward wellness can be a challenge, Glover acknowledges.
Over the years, he’s worked hard to spread the message that maintaining good health improves the quality of life. Today, that message also emphasizes the connection between good health and on-the-job safety.
“Our focus now is on steering our employees toward the concept that says, ‘I’m an industrial athlete and that requires me to be focused on the performance of my health,’ ” he says.
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