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Rethinking approaches to health care

There are early indications that a change in thinking, although not much more than a tremor at this point, may be running through the trucking community these days on the subject of health care. Some ...

There are early indications that a change in thinking, although not much more than a tremor at this point, may be running through the trucking community these days on the subject of health care. Some in our industry are considering redefining an employer’s level of responsibility for the health of its employees.

All but the most out-of-touch with reality employers provide health care benefits for their employees. These programs vary in content and coverage according to what an individual employer is prepared to offer, or can afford to offer. Comprehensive health care benefits can be a significant inducement for attracting potential employees, and are used for just that purpose.

And while benefit programs that pay for prescription drugs, eye care, dental, etc. are valuable parts of any-one’s compensation package, they follow more or less a pretty standard approach: that is addressing health issues once they have occurred.

What is often missing from these programs is a proactive approach to health care with a concentration on preventive measures that can help keep employees healthy and productive. They could also have the longer-term effect of lessening the burden on our health care system and the insurance premiums paid by the employer. It is this forward-looking type of approach to employee health care that is gaining interest within some segments of the trucking community.

Fair to say, some companies have programs that attempt to proactively address employee health. The most common example is the company gym. Many employers set aside space and spend a considerable amount of money on exercise equipment, all of which they have made available to employees in an effort to promote healthy living.

The downside to these in-house gyms however, is that the people you will find working up a sweat on the treadmill or stairmaster are usually the fittest people in the company -those who already have a keen interest in physical fitness.

For the rest of us, it can be more than a little intimidating, even embarrassing, to huff and puff on the bike while the guy beside us is doing 20 kms at top speed without so much as breathing deeply. It is even more intimidating if that individual is your boss, or even a fellow employee with whom you work closely.

Some companies also offer programs such as smoking cessation or weight loss, but again, attending the on-site ‘clinic’ can cause a good deal of mental discomfort for individuals who are faced with their workplace peers being aware that they are seeking help.

And there is yet another factor at play that diminishes the value of these in-house programs: some may consider them to be paternalistic. Despite their good intentions, not everyone wants their employer to look after them, to decide what is good for them and to, even in the subtlest manner, steer them in to participation. Some people just want to do a good job at work and make their own decisions about lifestyle, independent of pressure (real or imagined) from their employer or their peers.

Guiding employees to better health is obviously a fine line for employers, but with the right approach it is possible to be seen as helping without intruding.

At the recent annual conference of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, two seminars were devoted to the subject of driver well-being. One dealt with the subject of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), one of the most talked about health issues for drivers in recent times.

The PMTC seminar explained OSA for the layman and delved in to the approach of one member fleet to helping its drivers by working with volunteers to identify those affected by OSA, and then providing the treatment and equipment to deal with it. The results were a dramatic reduction in accidents and more volunteers for testing from among the drivers.

A second conference seminar dealt with the facts about diet -not the losing weight diet, but the ingredients for a healthy lifestyle diet. Drivers are particularly prone to poor eating habits, which can lead to even bigger health problems.

It is, of course, any individual’s choice as to their diet, but an employer can make information about healthy eating broadly available to all employees leaving them the choice of whether to alter their eating habits. It might be surprising to learn how small changes in diet can have a positive effect on long-term health.

These two seminars demonstrated how progressive employers can offer health care information and encourage participation without being intrusive or applying subtle pressure on employees.

We recently spoke with a doctor who is providing assistance on smoking cessation and weight loss to employees in a fully confidential manner. The employer makes the assistance available off-site and after hours, and is not made aware of the names of participants. This again is a progressive, non-threatening way to help employees to better health.

The immediate benefits of healthy employees are tangible and visible, including reductions in lost time through illness or accident and a happier and more productive workforce. Longer term there could be financial benefits to employers with health benefit premiums reflecting a reduced dependence on prescription drugs and other health issues.

-The Private Motor Truck Council is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. Direct comments and questions to

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