Poor employee health costs business about $1 trillion annually in absenteeism, lost productivity, and workers’ compensation. Companies are beginning to feel the squeeze, as workers’ comp and other medical costs continue to rise.A study by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) showed that the percentage of workers’ compensation claims complicated by a secondary illness nearly tripled from 2000 to 2009, and that such claims cost twice that of otherwise comparable claims.
In turn, companies are taking a new, hard look at hiring on-site occupational health and safety (OS&H) professionals. “It’s not just the growing cost of workers’ comp,” says Rachelle Rolshoven, Manager at Yoh Health Care. “The Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare -- is driving a greater interest in wellness, and employers are coming to understand that there may be a distinct business benefit to having someone on site to help them manage this new territory.”
Smoking cessation, cholesterol testing, weight management programs, even blood sugar checks to screen for diabetes are all programs piquing the interest of employers. “The healthier your workforce is,” says Rolshoven, “the better, the more productive your workforce is.”
As a result, demand is growing for occupational health professionals. According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) 2011 National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce, employers expected to hire more than 25,000 OS&H professionals between 2012 and 2017, a 52 percent surge over the 48,000 professionals already at work.
Unfortunately, the same CDC study found that in 2011 training and educational programs graduated only 2,800 new OS&H professionals at the bachelor’s degree level and higher. In the years leading up to 2017, just under 13,000 OS&H professionals will be entering the workforce, a shortfall of 12,000 versus the anticipated demand.
“Finding well-trained OS&H employees is a big challenge for many companies,” says Rolshoven. “There is a growing need in the industry, yet many of the current occupational health nurses are retiring, and younger nurses and nurse practitioners are not as well-educated about occupational health.”
Part of the problem is the lack of training opportunities. The aforementioned CDC study showed that there had been an overall decline in OS&H training program funding over the previous five years. While funding from outside sources held steady or increased, funding from within academic institutions had decreased. “A perfect example of this trend can be seen in the University of California, Irvine, which used to have an occupational health certification program for nurses,” says Rolshoven. “The program was discontinued eight years ago, and there’s been nothing established in the area since to replace it.”
Specialized healthcare staffing firms like Yoh work with clients across the country to find occupational health nurses, and nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and medical assistants in occupational safety and health.
“Because of the growing demand and dwindling supply of quality OS&H professionals, a strategic staffing partner is key for organizations that are becoming more active in this space,” explains Rolshoven. “Yoh has been focused on this particular area for more than 30 years. We are extraordinarily well networked within the occupational health field and keep our finger on the pulse of the industry, which gives us the reach we need to find the right occupational health candidates for clients.”