February is Heart Month, making it a perfect time to review your workers’ compensation program and fine-tune your health-related policies. While many businesses in excavation, site preparation and land improvement focus on preventing on-the-job accidents, controlling risks in the workplace requires a more holistic approach. According to research from RTI International, the number of Americans with cardiovascular disease is expected to reach 131.2 million over the next two decades, leading to a projected $1.1 trillion in associated medical costs. For employers, this increase in heart disease could translate into higher absenteeism, lower workforce productivity and a sharp rise in workers’ comp claims. But before you can adjust your business risk management plan accordingly, it’s important to understand the connection between work and cardiovascular disease.
Key Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and has a wide range of risk factors that excavation contractors and other construction professionals should be aware of. The three main contributors to cardiovascular conditions are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and tobacco use. The CDC also points out that an individual’s lifestyle and dietary behaviors can play a significant role in their heart health. Some common risk factors include:
- Poor nutrition
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Although these risk factors can be next to impossible for employers to control, it’s important to promote healthy behaviors though proactive workplace policies. Implementing an employee wellness program can not only help ward off avoidable workers’ comp claims, it can also improve employee morale and productivity in the long term. Alongside heart health promotion, business leaders should understand how work-related stress and shift fatigue can exacerbate an employee’s pre-existing cardiovascular condition.
Heart Disease at Work
Controlling risks in the workplace associated with heart disease can be challenging, as there’s still a lot we need to learn about how occupational factors impact the cardiovascular system. However, since many excavation contractors work in similar environments, assessing heart disease risks is a bit more straightforward.
Contractors doing excavation work, land improvement and site preparation spend long hours outdoors and often contend with stressful production schedules. For large projects, the use of heavy machinery is commonplace, meaning workers will need to sit in an excavator for a majority of their shifts. Together, these conditions can increase an employee’s chance of developing a cardiovascular disease or experiencing a heart-related medical emergency. To help you better manage these risk factors, let’s take a closer at how each can impact your employees’ health.
In 2018, a comprehensive study of the impact of work‐related stress on coronary heart disease was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. The report found that high-stress work environments can lead to “job strain,” which may increase an employee’s risk of coronary heart disease by 30% to 50%. Additionally, the researchers found that job strain can influence workers to adopt high-risk behaviors, such as smoking, physical inactivity and poor diets. The JAHA study suggests that occupational interventions can make a positive impact, though excavation contractors should also implement a broad health and wellness program.
Working in Extreme Conditions
Depending on where your excavation business is located, extreme weather conditions may also be contributing to your workers’ cardiovascular issues. Cold climates force the heart to work twice as hard to keep the body warm. Alternatively, contractors doing excavation work in the hot sun can experience symptoms of heat stroke, which put undue strain on their cardiovascular system. The most serious weather-related impact on heart health has to do with temperature fluctuations. One study from the American College of Cardiology found that an individual’s risk of heart attack increases by roughly 5% for every 9° of fluctuation in temperature.
Sedentary work environments are yet another risk factor for the development and acceleration of heart disease. As such, workers who spend most of their time in excavators are more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, which is why it’s important to rotate schedules and tasks accordingly. This is because regular physical activity can help lower blood pressure, reduce feelings of stress, control body weight and decrease bad cholesterol in your blood, according to the American Heart Association. Luckily, many who work in site preparation and land improvement fill physically demanding roles that keep them moving throughout the day.