As the manufacturing industry is expanding faster than it has in decades, it’s never been more important to optimize employee productivity — especially in the face of a skilled labor shortage. The fact is, manufacturing jobs are often physically demanding, emotionally stressful, and require long, unpredictable hours. The effects can have a huge impact on employee health and, in turn, overall job performance.

The link between manufacturing communities and health conditions

Did you know that noise exposure from manufacturing facilities can affect much more than hearing loss? As I highlighted in my last column, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), employees exposed to loud noise at work are more likely than others to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The CDC also reported that manufacturing has higher rates of hypertension than other industries.

What’s more, the National Institutes of Health National Library of Medicine has found that smoking — a leading contributor to high blood pressure and many other health conditions — is more prevalent among manufacturing employees (23.3 percent of the workforce) than those in other employment sectors by about 10 percentage points. Over time, health care costs for employers can really add up:

  • Smoking is often the costliest of employer health-related expenses. Data shows that one employee who smokes can cost your business $5,816 per year in added medical costs, absenteeism, lost productivity, and other costs.
  • The Journal of the American Heart Association states that people with hypertension are projected to spend close to $2,000 more in annual health care expenses than those without hypertension.
  • According to recent studies, employees with cardiovascular disease lost 56 more productivity hours and 13 more workdays annually than those without cardiovascular disease.
  • The CDC reports that high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity cost U.S. employers $36.4 billion a year due to missed days from work.
  • Chronic health conditions alone have been shown to account for roughly 85 percent of a business’ health care spending.

While employee health is crucial to maintaining productivity — and ultimately your company’s bottom line — many conditions related to heart disease can actually be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices.

February: American Heart Month

Since 1962, the American Heart Association has dedicated this month to educating the public on the importance of taking care of our hearts year-round. But even today, while 83 percent of the population believes heart attacks can be prevented, they still aren’t motivated to make heart health a priority. Some preventative measures you can encourage your employees to take to reduce the chances of heart disease include:

  • Not smoking or quitting
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Treating high blood pressure
  • Controlling cholesterol and blood sugar
  • Working out at least 150 minutes per week
  • Getting regular checkups

In addition to promoting these healthy lifestyle habits, the quality of care you deliver through your company health plan can also greatly affect the health of your employees.

Coordinated heart health management

Many health care plans are fragmented, meaning providers are unable to exchange patient information — either because their electronic health care systems are not connected or they’re otherwise incompatible. This can lead to gaps in care coordination, causing patients not to receive proper treatment. For those with chronic health conditions, this can be particularly disruptive to their care.

In a coordinated health care model, cardiologists, physicians, nurses, specialists, and pharmacists are linked together through a single electronic health record (EHR). Working as a team, they can immediately access vital, up-to-date medical information in real time, communicate with colleagues, and quickly implement treatments.

The EHR is also invaluable for detecting and treating chronic illnesses early. For instance, it automatically triggers reminders for various screenings. And if members have a condition, such as high blood pressure or heart disease, they are automatically enrolled in a chronic-care program that can be coordinated among different providers simultaneously.

Health care: an investment in your business

Rather than simply being a cost of running a company, a quality health plan is actually an investment in the well-being of your employees and, ultimately, your business — which is so vital, considering the imminent labor shortage in the manufacturing industry. By choosing the right plan, you can help improve employee health, increase productivity, boost company morale, and potentially manage health plan costs, so your business can prosper.

Melissa Chisum is senior director of Small Group Sales for Kaiser Permanente health plans. Reach her at