Last modified: Monday, December 7, 2009
Workplace Wellness: CSX Transportation taps wellness, ergonomics expertise at IU
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dec. 7, 2009
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- CSX Transportation and ergonomic experts from Indiana University have extended a three-year partnership focused on improving the health and wellness of thousands of railroad workers in 23 states.
With the new three-year agreement, CSX continues to have access to IU's ergonomic expertise along with nutrition and fitness experts in the university's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. IU researchers essentially have access to a working lab, providing rare research opportunities, undergraduate internships and full-time jobs for graduate students.
"Ergonomics involves studying work efficiency and the fit between people and their jobs and tasks," said John Shea, director of the Indiana Ergonomics Laboratory in the School of HPER's Department of Kinesiology. "Ergonomics and wellness are complementary topics, where accidents and injuries in the workplace are related to the wellness of the employee or workers."
Living a healthy and fit lifestyle is challenging for the general public and even more so for transportation workers. CSX, which employs around 31,000 transportation workers, had a handful of fitness centers, said Ken Glover, CSX director of health and wellness, but employees found it difficult to use them because of travel schedules and shift work. Glover said CSX eventually installed 27 24-hour fitness centers in 23 states, largely because of employee demand, and is considering more. The centers are free for employees to use but employees first must participate in health screenings.
Fifteen full-time and five part-time IU employees staff the fitness centers and offer a variety of services, such as one-on-one coaching and counseling concerning nutrition and blood pressure management. Shea said research from his lab and by others has shown a strong relationship between obesity and sleep apnea, which can cause sleepiness at work and contribute to mistakes.
"The logic is, if we can put in some wellness interventions to decrease obesity and sleep apnea, in addition to reducing a lot of other health problems among the workers, we'll decrease the sleepiness at work and reduce the risk of accidents and injuries being caused by sleepiness," he said. "This can be said for just about any industry, particularly all transportation industries."
The new contract was awarded on a competitive basis and Glover noted the company could have gone in different directions concerning the staffing. But he said expertise and credentials of the IU staff has been an important component of the success of the wellness centers. He said the IU employees have been able to establish a nice rapport with CSX employees, which helps with their coaching and other day-to-day services.
Glover states that participation in CSX's wellness efforts continues to grow. The greatest measures of success, he said, have involved participant outcomes, including weight loss, blood glucose control, blood pressure control, nicotine cessation, and cholesterol improvements.
"We're seeing sustained weight loss, adherence to medications, and people becoming better stewards of their health in terms of managing diabetes," he said. "A large population of our employees is coping with diabetes or pre-diabetes."
CSX offers HPER students an opportunity to apply classroom knowledge in corporate and industrial environments through the full-time positions and internships. IU has assisted CSX with developing and/or implementing approximately 30 workplace initiatives. Shea described the partnership as a great foundation for the development of wellness research.
"It's a great applied laboratory for behavioral health research because not very many people have access to populations of industrial workers," he said. "Having this large of a population to work with is fairly unusual. "
A collateral benefit, Shea said his colleagues are working with University of Illinois researchers on a pilot project to investigate and do comparison studies between rail workers in China and rail workers in the U.S.