Americans are unhealthy. According to the American Obesity Association, around 90 million adults are obese - and the costs are very high. The direct health care costs of obesity amounts to approximately $117 billion. Another $33 billion a year is spent on weight-loss products and programs.

Obesity has a direct relation to lost job productivity and higher health care costs. Recent studies showed that lost productivity amounted to $3.9 billion dollars annually among Americans ages 17-64.

Knowing that, what are HVAC contractors doing to promote healthy lifetsyles among their employees? The NEWS asked its contractor consultants to talk about their efforts to make health and fitness a top priority among their employees.

“Most contractors have a business plan they follow to keep their companies healthy, and I think it’s important we each develop a health care plan to keep our bodies healthy,” said Ken Bodwell of Innovative Service Solutions. “We cannot stop the aging process but we can minimize the effects of aging by being proactive.”

Scott Getzschman of Getzschman Heating & Sheet Metal said his community has played a key role in his company’s plans for healthy choices. “We do care about the health and well being of our employees,” he said. “Fremont [Neb.] is working toward being a Wellness City and we have been a part of that process. We currently offer health evaluations to our employees so they can determine what they need to work on. We are a corporate member of the Fremont YMCA, and offer a $100 discount off the yearly YMCA membership.

“By personal experience, being at the proper weight and working out daily definitely makes you feel better. At the end of the day, it gives you renewed energy. We want a healthy team at Getzschman, which in turn makes us a safer company with fewer injuries.”  

INCENTIVES FOR HEALTH EXAMS

Although contractors may not have specific incentives for taking annual health exams, their insurance plans may either pay fully or partially for the exams.

“Our group policy covers an annual exam, and all employees are covered under the policy,” said Ann Kahn of Kahn Mechanical. “In addition, we pay the bulk of the premium with the employee contributing one hour a month pay plus paying for dependent coverage. With increasing years of service, we pay a portion of the dependent premium as well (up to 65 percent with five years of service).”

Some contractors choose to focus on specific health concerns as reasons to provide incentives to have annual health exams, such as breast cancer detection and smoke cessation.

“Our health coverage provides one annual exam with one mammogram annually,” said Aaron York of Aaron York’s Quality A/C. “This was added four years ago to promote our employees to have annual exams.”

Russ Donnici of Mechanical Air Service has been trying to get an employee to “kick the habit” for quite a while.

“We do offer $500 to anyone who quits smoking and stays smoke free,” he said. “No one has used it. I was particularly concerned about an employee who smokes and has health issues and sick days because of respiratory issues. He wants to quit but won’t make any effort to do so. We also get occasional customer complaints about him smelling like smoke.”

Roger Grochmal of Atlas Air/ClimateCare believes that his management team should be in tip-top shape. “I pay for an extensive executive annual medical so that they can stay at the peak health and performance,” he said. “It’s costly but worth it.”

PROMOTING HEALTHY LIFESTYLES

Belonging to fitness clubs and eating healthy are two ways that HVAC contractors can promote healthy lifestyles among their employees. Larry Taylor of AirRite Air Conditioning recommends several avenues. “We use Alpha Staff leasing and they have national discounted programs available to our employees for fitness club, LASIK surgery, massage therapy, weight loss programs, dietetic counseling, etc.” he said.

Kahn said that her company posts reminders about healthy lifestyles. “Health tips are posted in the break room,” she said. “Interestingly enough, health discussions take place often among our employees. This isn’t just among the older ones, the young ones seem quite concerned as well.”

Hank Bloom of Environmental Conditioning Systems invites representatives from a local hospital to come in once a year to speak with employees about health issues. He added, “We also have drug-free and safety programs.”

Grochmal is a supporter of fitness clubs but is not sure if employees share his concern. “We have access to a program that provides a 30 percent discount with a local fitness club through the company that provides our employee benefits,” he said. “I’m not sure how many take advantage of it but it is a very good deal. We are launching a new employee newsletter this fall and intend to have a place for health and wellness information.”

But even the best intentions are not always met with enthusiasm. “We used to have a flyer for health information,” said York. “Too many of them were in the trash and no one read them, so they were discontinued. People were more interested in their paychecks than health information.”

THE IMPORTANCE OF HEALTHY EMPLOYEES

Grochmal sees dollar signs when he talks about the relationship of healthy employees to his bottom line. “A healthy employee is absolutely important,” he said. “It not only keeps absenteeism to a minimum but also reduces your costs for workers compensation. We now have the lowest compensation cost over the past two years that we have ever had.”

York gave some specifics about the cost of poor health. “It just takes one person in any group to surcharge your insurance premiums over 100 percent,” he said. “Something you think may be minor is a red flag to the underwriters, such as a teen under 18 taking an antidepressant, diabetes even when controlled by diet and not on medication, hypertension even though the employee may be on maintenance medication, etc.”

For Taylor, it is not just cost - it is also about productivity. “Time loss from work due to sickness makes our efficiency drop,” he said. “When most companies are running as tight as they can on employees, a few hours missed makes all the difference in the world. When they are out, someone else has to cover or his or her work doesn’t get done. In the case of accounting, it may not be as time sensitive. In case of customer service representatives, dispatchers, warehouse, installation crews, service techs, it is a loss of income.”

HVAC contractors might want to look at what other businesses in their communities are doing to promote healthy lifestyles. Bodwell did. “The company that is located next to our business is a commercial tree trimming company,” he said. “They park the big trucks every night and they roll every morning at 7:30 a.m.

“Before they leave, the supervisor leads them in a required fifteen minute exercise regiment to ensure they are fit to climb trees, lift, and bend. This minimizes back injuries and serves to identify employees that may have impairment on a given day. When I spoke to them about the practice, they indicated it helped with insurance coverage and workers’ compensation claims.”

Publication date: 01/07/2008