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Wellness Partner
Making Time for Vacation

Remember holiday vacations? Many employees struggle to take time off. This isn’t healthy for anybody, says Affinity EAP counselor Kadihjia Kelly.

“People have this thought that if they leave for a couple days, they’ll just come back to more work,” Kadihjia says. Consequently, they skip vacation time, forge ahead on the job, and eventually become burnt out and less productive. This harms employees and the company they work for.

The Employer’s Role

Employers can prevent this pitfall with two important steps. First, Kadihjia says, “I tell companies they need to start cross-training so folks know what other folks do. So when someone does take off, there’s somebody else to fill the void.”

And second, stop sending mixed signals. “Most companies don’t understand the message they’re sending. They say they offer this vacation benefit, but they don’t make it easy or encourage people to use it.” Kadihjia advises employers to build a culture that supports vacation time—then stand by it. “If employers can relate that there won’t be retaliation for taking time off, it can lead to better rested, more focused employees, and more productivity.”

Unplugged and Present
Of course, vacation doesn’t just benefit the employer. For the employee, it makes a huge impact on personal well-being and family ties, especially for people who are easily consumed by work. “If we do not take time off, we miss those moments with our families. It’s really necessary to take time off once in a while so you’re 100 percent present in those relationships,” Kadihjia says.

In order to reap the benefits of vacation, Kadihjia advises people to turn off work—literally. No cell phones, no e-mail. “Yes, it might create some anxiety to not know what’s going on at work. That’s why it’s key that folks put things in place beforehand so they’ll be better able to turn off,” she says. “Prep better for the vacation, and you’ll be able to enjoy it.”

For more information about Affinity Occupational Health, please contact us at 920-628-1532 or

Posted 11/13/12

Why Use HRAs?

Health care costs, employee health, presenteeism, absenteeism, employee productivity, worker's compensation. There are lots of reasons to offer health risk assessments (HRA) to your employees. If you do, kudos! If not, it’s time to start. Whether you’ve been conducting HRAs for years or never before, it’s important to understand why this tool is so valuable to employer and employee alike.

What is an HRA?

The health risk assessment (HRA) is a health tool used to identify personal risk factors for individuals. Collectively, the Corporate HRA Summary Report is a road map for improving employee health for an organization. It helps employers gauge overall health improvements from year to year in the employee population and to identify key areas in which to focus wellness programming and interventions.

An HRA includes:

  • Confidential online health and lifestyle questionnaire
  • On-site biometric screening--total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, ratio total cholesterol/HDL, triglycerides and glucose
  • Measurements --height, weight, blood pressure, body fat percentage, and body mass index (BMI) testing
  • Personalized, confidential health profile report
  • Corporate summary report providing aggregate data on the health issues of employee population

How does it help my organization?

When you use your HRA data to invest in the right wellness programs, employee health improves. And when employee health improves, there is a positive impact on medical costs, absenteeism, productivity, and many more organizational benefits!

How does it help my employees?

HRAs enhance your benefits package. It’s a tool that tells employees you care, and you are willing to invest in their well-being. HRAs helps employees gain knowledge of their personal risk factors, which enables them to make healthy lifestyle changes to avoid illness, chronic diseases, and improve their overall health and wellness.

Take action

Effective wellness programs start with an HRA. It’s the first step toward creating a comprehensive wellness culture for your workforce. For more information, call your occupational health partner organization.

For more information about Affinity Occupational Health, please contact us at 920-628-1532 or
Posted 10/24/12

Wellness – A Family Affair

My dentist's waiting room displays a sign I enjoy:  "Brush only the teeth you want to keep."  Like everybody, I want to keep them all!  So, how much of your wellness program should incorporate families?  Only the parts you want to succeed! 


Each component succeeds best when families participate.  That goes for health risk appraisals (HRA), exercise promotion, tobacco cessation, alcohol misuse education, home safety, nutrition, depression awareness, stress management, incentive programs, health coaching, resiliency training, medical consumerism, self-care, and more.  Wellness is a family affair.


Think of how family support can improve these four key metrics that define wellness program success:


·         Participation - how many people showed?

·         Engagement - how well did they complete the process?

·         Effectiveness - what proportion of participants achieved goals?

·         Reach - how well did the benefit penetrate the population you hoped to help?  Note that Reach puts it all together, incorporating each of the other metrics.

Recently, we delivered a tobacco cessation intervention, "Call It Quits Plus," to our own organization, made possible by a Mercy Health Foundation grant.  Eligibility includes all employees AND spouses, which increases PARTICIPATION.  Our employee smoking rates are much lower than the state average.  But, spousal smoking rates are typical.  So, we expect larger participation by welcoming them. 


This intensive program requires commitment by participants.  It centers on medical treatment (prescription medication or over-the-counter nicotine replacement) and a series of group meetings.  ENGAGEMENT in this 12-week long process will benefit from the accountability that a spouse adds. 


This worksite tobacco cessation method has enjoyed remarkable EFFECTIVENESS, at least ten times higher than that of unassisted "cold turkey" attempts.  Effectiveness soars higher for any would-be quitters who have a family "quit smoking buddy."


Yet, ultimately the program REACH will determine its financial outcome.  That's because we provide health insurance for employees AND families.  In fact, many people seek employment at Affinity to obtain health insurance benefits for their spouse.  If we failed to include spouses in our tobacco intervention, we wouldn't reach this needy group, who no doubt generates much of our membership's tobacco-related health care spending.


We need family involvement to maximize the REACH in any intervention.  Our financial success depends upon it.  I've worked with client companies with enviable programs yet frustration in their claims results, owing to inadequate reach.  Invariably, a few costly outliers sour the experience of the whole group if family members remain UN-REACHED!


For more information about Affinity Occupational Health, please contact us at 920-628-1532 or
Posted 9/12/12

Substitution and Other Room Cause Solutions

I saw an intriguing link on "OH-World" blog this week, to a European search engine called "Subs-Port." It finds safe substitutes for hazardous chemicals.  In my brief test drive, I found that its "External Substitutions Websites and Databases" search function performed best, which you can find here.



It lets you enter the name of the chemical you want to replace, then shows you an international variety of resources about safer alternatives. Here’s a tip: If, like me, you want to avoid non-English documents, just skip the URL options that end in the suffixes ".fr" or ".de" and the like.


Here’s a more important tip: Even if your work doesn’t require you to worry about details like this, still understand the BIG PICTURE of workplace hazard control. That is, resolve risks by taking the necessary steps in order of effectiveness and proximity to the root cause, as shown: 

Diagram of the HIERARCHY OF HAZARD CONTROL, with the most effective methods at the top and the least effective at the bottom, from Wikipedia, which provides a nice concise explanation of the process:


Use these steps to confront ANY type of workplace hazard, not just chemicals.  You can readily imagine how it works for exposure to extreme heat or noise, for example. 


Now, stretch your imagination to consider even WORKPLACE STRESS:  
  1. First, eliminate stress at the source where able, such as by training managers to run operations in a style that provokes less stress for employees.
  2. Substitute another assignment for an overstressed employee. 
  3. Engineer a solution to technology-related stress with user-friendly software. 
  4. Administrate flexible work schedules to control the stress of work/family imbalance. 
  5. Provide stressed employees with personal protective “equipment” like Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and chair massage at their workplace.

Stress may seem like an “over the top” example of this method, but it truly applies. The Hierarchy tells you to NOT first address stress by providing chair massages without addressing stress at its source, for example.


Root cause solutions always work best, and cost less in the long run. “Root out” problems using the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls. 


For more information about Affinity Occupational Health, please contact us at 920-628-1532 or

Posted 8/2/12

Patients Beware of "OOW" - A Common But Dangerous Doctor Recommendation!*
Too often, doctors issue a dangerous prescription called "OOW" despite evidence that it doesn't successfully treat any condition, and proof that OOW has serious side effects!

Patients receiving OOW have increased mortality rates, especially from heart disease and suicide. Mental health and psychological well-being deteriorate the longer a doctor prescribes OOW. Recipients increasingly suffer various bodily aches and pains, needing more medical appointments, hospitalizations, and medications than patients who do not receive OOW. Their risk of cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and respiratory infections steadily worsens while continuing OOW. **  


What’s more, OOW worsens the health of families and children. Kids risk more chronic illness, psychosomatic complaints, lower well-being, and even physical abuse if both parents receive OOW more than six months. Social problems of withdrawal, anxiety and depression, aggressive or delinquent behavior, and substance abuse often afflict these children. **


Perhaps by now you have realized that “OOW” is not the name of a new drug, being neither new nor a drug.  Instead, “Out Of Work” has unfortunately been recommended by physicians for ages. And, such a drug would never have come to market if, like OOW, it rarely accomplished any therapeutic benefit, and carried these major side effects.


Fortunately, Returning to Work (RTW) can reverse the bad effects of OOW. Once unemployed adults become reemployed, research finds improved general health and well-being with better self-esteem, self-rated health, self-satisfaction, and physical health. Reemployment reduces psychological distress and minor psychiatric morbidity, lowers medical morbidity rates, and improves physical function, especially in older workers. These benefits grow in proportion to the security of their new job and how well it matches the individual’s motivation, desire, and satisfaction. ** Truly, RTW provides the antidote to OOW!


Better yet, doctors should prevent the ill effects of OOW in the first place by helping patients Stay at Work. Truly, SAW protects against OOW!


Doctors must avoid putting their patients at risk of needless disability. The American Medical Association “. . . encourages physicians everywhere to advise their patients to return to work at the earliest date compatible with health and safety and recognizes that physicians can, through their care, facilitate patient’s return to work.” ***


My organization, The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, supports this further with extensive guidelines it wrote for employers and health care providers, Preventing Needless Work Disability by Helping People Stay Employed.” **** If your company needs a structured SAW/RTW program, or if you need to improve the one you have, see the link to this useful document in the footnotes below.


I have convincingly seen during my 30 years as a physician that work improves health. People who work stay healthier than those who do not. They enjoy better vitality and well-being.


Tragically, disability results in the opposite. It brings a sorrowful life. It comes with no 401K, health insurance, dental or vision plan, company bowling team, picnic, or Christmas party. Disability diminishes both quality and duration of life. And it seems to span generations in some families.


Physicians must help patients avoid unnecessary disability. Occupational Medicine holds the best position among all specialties to do this.  Occupational Medicine specialists practice prevention. They help healthy employees stay healthy, and ill and injured employees stay employable. By preventing accidents and illnesses in the first place, by detecting emerging medical problems early, and by preventing needless disability, “occ docs” help patients RTW and SAW, avoiding OOW.


A productive life can be the best medicine of all!


For more information about Affinity Occupational Health, please contact us at 920-628-1532 or



*Concept credit to Mark Hyman MD, UCLA; coauthor of

AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Work Ability and RTW

**Realising the Health Benefits of Work
Australasian Faculty of Occupational & Environmental Medicine Position Statement, 2010.  Accessed 6/1/12 at


*** AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Work Ability and RTW


**** Preventing Needless Work Disability by Helping People Stay Employed

Copyright © 2006 American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine; Published in September 2006 JOEM.  Also available, as of 6/1/12 access, at
Posted 7/20/12

Shift Work and Sleep  
By Brian Harrison, MD, medical director of Health and Productivity Management, Affinity Occupational Health

We are a sleep-deprived nation. Everybody who works shifts, or who employs shift workers, knows this.

Now add this to your knowledge of the subject:
Shift Worked

Average Hours of Sleep
(on work days)

Average Hours of Sleep
(on non-work days)
Permanent Days 7.2       8.5
Permanent PMs 7.7 8.5
Permanent Nights 6.8 8.8
Rotating to Days 7.5       
Rotating to PMs 8.5
Rotating to Nights 5
(Source: Tepas DI, "Sleep Patterns of Shift Workers," Occupational Medicine - State of the Art Reviews, Vol 5 no. 2)

As you can see, PM shifts (that is, working from afternoon into evening) are associated with the most sleep. That's true whether worked as a permanent shift or while part of a rotation. And night shifts are the worst, as we all know. Besides the fact night shift workers average the least sleep, you can also see from the above table that they must "make up" lost sleep more than other workers, on days away from work.

But, it appears they don't make up the sleep deficit very well. Permanent night shift workers average only 20 minutes more sleep on days off than do day and PM workers, even though night shift workers average about an hour less sleep on work days. Remember, deficits accumulate: if you need eight hours but only average seven, then by the end of the week you are an entire night short on sleep!

Scheduling Tips
Employers who are savvy to this do what they can to encourage employees to come to work well-rested. Here are a few tips your schedulers should know:
  • The time off between the end of one shift and the beginning of the next one should be at least 11 hours. Remember that rule even when scheduling early morning meetings!
  • Limit eight-hour shifts to a maximum of seven in a row, and 12-hour shifts to four or five in a row.

Those tips come from CIRCADIAN, a fatigue-risk management system. Please see this Occupational Health & Safety article, "Workers Need at Least 11 Hours Off Between Shifts," for more of their advice. And get to bed on time tonight! 

For more information about Affinity Occupational Health, please contact us at 920-628-1532 or
Posted 6/25/2012

EAPs Make Healthier Workplaces
  Why should your company have an EAP? Because it leads to a healthier, more productive workplace, says a study on mental health by Morneau Shepell, a top North American human resource consulting firm.

The study collected data to measure four specific outcomes: general health status, mental health status, productivity, and absenteeism. Here are some of its findings:
  • Employees rated their mental health 15 percent higher after receiving EAP support. 
  • EAP intervention resulted in a 34 percent reduction in costs related to lost productivity. 
  • Before EAP intervention, decreased productivity and absence was costing organizations almost $20,000 per employee per year.

"Research shows that workers with depressive disorders, in particular, can have almost four times more health-related lost productive time than those who do not suffer from these problems," said Karen Seward, senior VP of business development and marketing for Morneau Shepell. "The toll on the bottom line is huge."

Today EAPs serve about 75 percent of North American businesses and are a key component of benefit plans. The Morneau Shepell study makes two key recommendations:

1. Organizations should develop a more strategic partnership with their EAP provider as a first step in realizing the return on their investment. The provider can recommend strategies to optimize the use of the EAP as a preventative measure with the objective of saving costs down the line, and be positioned to make recommendations around the strategic use of EAP services to support the organization's health priorities.

2. Organizations should consider a comprehensive, strategic approach to absence management. To promote sustained attendance at work, and prevent downstream costs and consequences, they should shift from stand-alone absence administration programs to attendance management strategies aligned with the company's business objectives, cost management goals, and strategies related to employee engagement and retention.

Talk with your local EAP provider to learn more about the benefits of employee counseling.

For more information about Affinity Occupational Health, please contact us at 920-628-1532 or
Posted 5/11/2012

Allergy Attack vs. Medicine Head: Don't let seasonal allergies affect safety at work
By Brian Harrison, MD
Recent research at a heavy manufacturing plant proved four important things about seasonal allergies:

1. During their bad seasons, allergy sufferers have more work injuries, more Worker Compensation claims, less ability to concentrate and to work without mistakes, and rate their own work performance as being worse. Absenteeism, Worker Comp, and group health claims increase!

2. The worse their symptoms got, the worse these risks and impairments became.

3. And, when allergy sufferers used sedating antihistamines (allergy medicines that cause drowsiness), their impairment and their risks didn’t improve.

4. BUT, when allergy sufferers used non-sedating medications, their work performance improved dramatically and was nearly as good as people who had no allergy. Their risk of work injury also dropped to normal!

It is nice when research matches common sense! If you have ever suffered from severe runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing from allergies, then you know you can’t work as effectively and safely as you’d like. And, if you ever had “medicine head” from taking antihistamines that made you drowsy, you also know that makes it hard to work, especially to work safely. But, if you use an allergy medicine that does not cause drowsiness, you remain alert, make fewer mistakes, and work safely and effectively.

So, the take home message is “READ THE BOX!” If you use an over-the-counter allergy medicine, read the warning label before you take it! If it says it may cause drowsiness, you should not take it and go to work within 6-12 hours, depending on the product. Find and use something else to keep allergy troubles away while you work, for the safety and you and your co-workers.

Certain over-the-counter medicines are great for working people. These include loratadine (Claritin type) and cetirizine (Zyrtec type). You can buy these over the counter, including inexpensive generic or “store brands.” Ask your provider what’s best for you. Your doctor could also prescribe various other allergy medicines if needed, which likewise do not cause drowsiness. More severe allergies may require these prescriptions.

And, remember to tell your doctor what you do at work. That helps your provider choose the best and safest medicine for you. Again, the key is finding the right medicine. If your allergies are anything more than minor, treating them improves your safety, but you need the right medicine to help you feel better AND work better.

Be safe! Stay happy! Don’t fall victim to “ALLERGY ATTACK or MEDICINE HEAD!”

For more information about Affinity Occupational Health, please contact us at 920-628-1532 or

Posted 4/19/2012

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