Lorne Kleppe
Executive Director, Manufacturers Health and Safety Association (MHSA)

Companies are constantly evaluating production methods, technologies, and strategies to best utilize their resources to retain employees and attract new skilled labour to the industry. 

Many employers are hiring consultants to help streamline operations and make recommendations for technology, but more importantly, and equally effective for the bottom line, Alberta manufacturing companies are assessing their moral and ethical responsibility to not only ensure the safety of their employees, but their health and well-being as well. A thriving economy in Alberta strengthens this resolve.  

The Alberta manufacturing industry employs 140,000 men and women (mostly men), and almost three-quarters of them are 25 to 54 years of age. Work-life balance and attractive wellness programs may be what is needed to retain employees and to attract new young skilled workers to an industry traditionally thought of as risky. These programs may include assistance with gym memberships, smoking cessation programs, weight management programs, family counselling and other health related benefits, to name a few.  

“Alberta manufacturing companies are assessing their moral and ethical responsibility to not only ensure the safety of their employees, but their health and well-being as well.”

Industry partnerships and safety education programs and certifications are already creating a very positive trickledown effect for the Alberta manufacturing industry. A positive working relationship with industry associations, Occupational Health and Safety, Alberta Health Services, and Workers’ Compensation Board-Alberta (WCB) are all paving the way for improvements in workplace safety and now health and well-being. 

Although at first it may seem counterintuitive, comprehensive workplace health and safety programs can help considerably to directly reduce costs for employers. Potential benefits of these programs include reductions in absenteeism, increased performance and productivity during work hours, and an overall increase in employee participation.  Programs that decrease workplace injuries and illness will lead to a reduction in accident and recruitment costs. 

Is it working?

The short answer is yes. In 2014, WCB rates are at some of the lowest levels we have seen in manufacturing in Alberta in five years, even though insurable earnings are up 5.6 percent. Employers investing in safety are reducing their costs, but further reductions may require a more comprehensive approach. 

Is there room for further improvement?

Yes. Some studies show those cost reductions may be even be greater with the additional investment in wellness programs. A Harvard study found that absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every dollar spent on a wellness program, and a Canadian wellness ROI study found that wellness programs save 1.5 – 1.7 days of absenteeism which translates to a 14 – 36 percent reduction in absenteeism for employers.

Over the past five years, Alberta Health Services has been working with the manufacturing industry to develop a health workplace training module as an optional health element to its current safety basics training course, one of the courses needed to achieve a Certificate of Recognition COR through WCB’s Partnerships in Injury Reduction PIR program. This element would support manufacturing companies who choose to evaluate the status of their workplace health promotion and prevention activities.  This component will be available to employers in the fall of 2014. 

In Alberta, the Manufacturing sector is looking at a non-traditional Return on Investment (ROI) strategy that may pave the way to retain and attract skilled workers to the industry and at the same time reduce their costs. Investing in a comprehensive workplace health model to ensure a “healthy” future in the manufacturing industry.