National Academies Press: OpenBook

Transit Operator Health and Wellness Programs (2004)


Page 60
Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER FIVE - CONCLUSIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Transit Operator Health and Wellness Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23371.
Page 60

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47 CHAPTER FIVE CONCLUSIONS The increasing documentation of the positive impacts of quality worksite health and wellness programs has moti- vated more and more employers to adopt such programs. Workplace health and wellness programs have been pro- ducing tangible and intangible benefits for some time. Some of the most frequently listed tangible benefits in- clude reduced use of the health care system, and lower rates of injuries, absenteeism, and turnover. Some of the intangible benefits are increased productivity, elevated em- ployee morale, and enhanced loyalty. Health risk factors for operators have been well docu- mented. Most, including the lack of physical activity, obe- sity, hypertension, stress, poor nutrition, and fatigue, are modifiable through proactive measures. Employer- sponsored health and wellness programs are one strategy for helping employees make the most effective changes. As determined from synthesis survey responses, a number of transit agencies have used health and wellness programs for more than a decade. Quite a few appear to be models that other agencies could adapt to their organizational needs. The different approaches used to design and operate these programs can provide other transit agencies with an array of options for how they might achieve their goals of having a healthier operator work force. In most of the 14 reporting agencies, the largest per- centages of resources go toward activities that create an awareness of health risks and opportunities for making long-term lifestyle changes. Often these are the least ex- pensive resources available: brochures, posters, large group information sessions, videotapes, audiotapes and the like. Although these activities are a good starting point, once employees are at a certain level of awareness, more atten- tion needs to be paid to moving them to activities that help them to take action to reduce their risks of illness and dis- ability. These activities fall into the education and behavior change categories. Most of these programs have established linkages with other departments in their organizations—a strategy that has strengthened their position and staying power. Having programs such as workers’ compensation, health promo- tion, disability, employee assistance, and safety work col- laboratively for the common purpose of maintaining a healthy work force can be a successful business strategy in transit and other industries. In one case study agency, a 14- year wellness program has evolved during the past 2 years into a health and rehabilitation program, through a coordi- nated strategy adopted between the human resources de- partment and the legal department, which manages the workers’ compensation function. Transit agencies use a combination of internal and ex- ternal resources to structure cost-effective health and well- ness programs. One wellness coordinator of a small agency participates in a local wellness cooperative that gives em- ployees access to programs offered by health and wellness experts in the area. Two agencies use contractors to admin- ister the physical fitness aspects of their programs. Other agencies use a combination of vendors and nonprofit agen- cies to staff their health fairs. Some transit agencies pro- vide incentives and information about external resources to encourage employees to improve physical fitness. The six case studies demonstrated the importance of the program coordinator’s enthusiasm and commitment to im- proving employee health and wellness. In each case, these individuals, some with formal preparation as health promo- tion professionals, and others without such preparation, show true zeal and passion for their mission—creating an environment in which employees can make more healthful lifestyle choices. In those cases where the coordinator has primary responsibilities in other disciplines, these indi- viduals partner with wellness committee members, includ- ing operators, to ensure that the program message remains in the forefront. In a number of cases, active wellness committees are the lifeblood of the program. Their mem- bers serve as health and wellness advocates who energize fellow employees to begin and continue to work toward being part of a healthier work force. Chief executive officers in a number of responding agencies have taken the lead in creating a healthy and healthful workplace culture. In these organizations, the health and wellness program is an essential component of the organizational strategy. Actions taken to communicate commitment to employee health and wellness include mak- ing reference to the need for a healthy work force in vision statements and strategic business plans. In some cases, chief executive officers are active participants in the pro- gram. Some organizations have been successful in forging labor–management partnerships that encourage employee participation and empowerment toward healthful behavior. Given the heavily unionized nature of the transit operator work force, research on the motivating and sustaining forces that make such partnerships work could be benefi- cial to the transit industry, especially as each group is tack-

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TRB’s Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 52: Transit Operator Health and Wellness Programs examines health and wellness issues faced by bus and rail operators, the impacts of these issues on operators’ abilities to be productive employees, and programs that transit agencies have implemented to improve the health status of operators.


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