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Staci Heinbigner, GBA, Benefits Advisor Advocate at Sutton Benefits & Pension

What first comes to mind when you think of workplace safety as an employer? Perhaps something related to vehicle inspections, road conditions, ergonomics, personal protective equipment, or chemical hazards. What if you dug deeper and thought of workplace safety from the perspective of mental health and critical illness? Truck drivers are at risk for increased stress and critical illnesses.

Their job requires them to meet tight schedules and stay alert for many hours, and they often work in isolation away from home and family life. They can even be exposed to violence at roadside rest stops or be victims of crime targeting valuable loads. Truck drivers have a greater chance of developing many chronic diseases and health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and musculoskeletal disorders.1 What is the cost of employee absenteeism to your business? If an employee came to you tomorrow and said, they needed to take a medical leave, granting that leave would come with a high price to you. And it happens more often than you might think. How can busy employers position themselves to support their employees in a mental health crisis or after the diagnosis of a critical illness? Or better yet, how can employers provide education, training, and access to resources for preventive care?

Mental Health
Canadian companies lose an estimated $16.6 billion in productivity per year due to workers calling in sick because of mental health concerns.2 One in five Canadians experiences a mental illness or addiction in any given year. Half of Canadians will have had a mental illness by age 40.3 According to a 2017 study by Morneau Shepell (now LifeWorks) and The Globe and Mail, more than one in three workers with mental health concerns say stress is the leading cause of those issues.4 As an employer, you play a vital role in improving employee lost time results and shortening health claim duration and frequency. Below are five solutions for your employees to maintain or improve their health and well-being and increase productivity.

1. Implement an employee family assistance program.
2. Confirm that you have a short and long-term disability policy in your group benefits plan.
3. Confirm that you have coverage for mental health practitioners under your extended health plan.
4. Implement a wellness plan as part of your overall compensation. It will promote physical wellness and cover alternative medicines that aren’t included in traditional health plans.
5. Revisit your employee return-to-work policy. Help eliminate peer stigma when the employee returns.

Chronic Conditions
Similar to absenteeism due to mental health leaves, the incidence of chronic conditions is on the rise. What’s more, treatment of chronic conditions can be costly. The average Canadian isn’t financially prepared for a significant health event. The majority will have to make financial decisions at a time when they should be focused on their health.

Here are a few statistics to think about:
• Illness and medical problems are among the top reasons for personal bankruptcy in Canada.5
• 24% of employees say they could not come up with $2,000
if an emergency arose.6
• Cancer, heart disease, and stroke are responsible for over
50% of deaths in Canada.7
• It was estimated for 2021 that, on average, 628 Canadians would be diagnosed with cancer every day.8
• Someone has a stroke in Canada every 10 minutes.9

Critical Illness
Not meant to replace disability or life insurance, critical illness coverage is an effective strategy to support employees facing a life-altering condition or disease. Although some employers still see critical illness coverage as a ‘fringe’ benefit, those leading the way are offering it as a core benefit to give their employees the means and peace of mind to focus on recovery, not finances, should they ever have to deal with a critical illness or injury. Fighting a critical illness may be the most difficult thing your employee will ever experience, and having coverage can mean so much to the employee and their family. The benefit is paid out as a lump sum that the employee may use the way they most need it – for example, to help cover living expenses when they are unable to work or hire professionals to assist with medical care, child or elder care, or household chores. If you have critical illness insurance in place, be sure you clearly understand the definitions, eligibility, and exclusions of your policy, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions or a second occurrence.

What’s Next?
Your employees’ overall health and safety requires a comprehensive approach, one that requires thought and attention to what matters most to your employees. The key is finding the right balance of mental, physical, and financial well-being and knowing that everyone’s priorities are a little different. Start the conversation – talk to your benefits advisor about finding the best value from your group benefits plan, balancing various priorities, and spending your dollars where they matter most.

 “The right perspective makes the impossible possible.” – Unknown

 Sources
1. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.“Keeping healthy for the long haul,” Health and Safety Report 14 (5), Apr. 22, 2022. www.ccohs.ca/newsletters/hsreport/issues/2016/05/ezine.html#:~:text=Truck%20drivers%20have%20a%20greater,compared%20to%20other%20adult%20workers.
2. Conference Board of Canada. Missing in Action: Absenteeism Trends in Canadian Organizations, 2013.
3. P. Smetanin, D. Stiff, C. Briante, et al. The Life and Economic Impact of Major Mental Illnesses in Canada: 2011–2041. Prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. RiskAnalytica, 2011.
4. Bill Howatt, Louise Bradley, Jesse Adams, et al. Understanding Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Their Impacts in the Workplace. Mental Health Commission of Canada/Morneau Shepell/The Globe and Mail. 2017. www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/wp-content/uploads/drupal/2018-06/Monreau_White_Paper_Report_Eng.pdf.
5. Bankruptcy Canada. “Causes of bankruptcy in Canada.” www.bankruptcy-canada.com/bankruptcy/causes-of-bankruptcy.
6. Empowering Employees to Improve Their Financial Wellness. Sun Life Financial Wellness Study. www.sunlife.ca/static/slf/Mental%20health/Financial%20Wellness%20BrightPaper%20GB10304%20E.pdf.
7. Statistics Canada. Leading Causes of Death in Canada, 2009. www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/84-215-x/2012001/hl-fs-eng.htm.
8. Canadian Cancer Society. “Cancer statistics at a glance” www.cancer.ca/en/research/cancer-statistics/cancer-statistics-at-a-glance.
9. Heart & Stroke Foundation. 2014 Stroke Report. Together Against a Rising Tide: Advancing stroke systems of care. www.heartandstroke.ca/-/media/pdf-files/canada/stroke-report/hsf-stroke-report- 2014#:~:text=there%20are%20an%20estimated%2050%2C000,include%20a%20range%20of%20disabilities.

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