Higher Weight, Higher Workers’ Compensation Costs

Obesity was associated with higher workers' compensation costs when serious injuries occurred. The average workers' compensation cost for someone who was obese was $470,000, while the cost of healthy-weight individual averaged at $180,000.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the complications of being overweight can cause decreased productivity in jobs and more days of missed work. Additionally, obesity among employees makes them more prone to chronic diseases, potentially leading to higher healthcare costs. Recent research shows the same can be said for workers’ compensation claims: Obesity increases costs associated with this expense.

The study
Researchers, whose work was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, reviewed data from 2,301 workers’ compensation claims that resulted in lost work time. They compared costs between those who were obese (body mass index of 30 or higher), overweight (BMI of 25-30) and normal-weight individuals. They found that obesity was associated with higher workers’ compensation costs when serious injuries occurred.

Specifically, the average workers’ compensation cost for someone who was obese was $470,000, while the cost of healthy-weight individual averaged at $180,000. Claims for those classified as overweight fell in the middle of those two figures at $270,000. Statistically, obese workers are twice more likely than normal-weight workers to incur costs above $100,000, per an accompanying press release.

It is important to note that this study did not indicate whether those who are overweight are at a higher risk for injury, and it specifically noted this increased costs related to only serious, not minor, injuries.

Encouraging healthy weight among workers
These results give employers more reason to promote fitness and nutrition among workers. Of course, creating a safe environment to reduce the risk for injury is key, but not all accidents can be prevented. To minimize the costs associated with inevitable injuries, companies may benefit from instilling wellness programs.

Research shows these initiatives are effective at improving both health and cost containment. According to the Society for Human Resource Management 2014 Strategic Benefits survey, 72 percent of respondents said wellness programs were at least somewhat effective in reducing healthcare costs, which has positive implications for workers’ compensation. Meanwhile, 78 percent of participants said they saw an improvement in employee physical health.

To ensure your wellness program is effective, look at what other companies are doing. According to SHRM, 67 percent of businesses offer incentives for employee participation. This reward can range anywhere from free lunches to a day off of work. Additionally, cater the program to the company’s culture. For example, an IT department may enjoy getting active with a Wii tournament as part of the wellness program, while an office focused on collaboration may benefit from team-type competitions.

Focusing on workplace wellness may be worth the time, effort and cost, especially considering the increased price associated with obesity and workers’ compensation.