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Improving Employee Health and Workplace Productivity with an Insole Program
Workers who walk or stand for long periods of time during their workday, without proper foot support and shock absorption, are susceptible to pain and harmful musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that can have lasting effects on the body. Just as steel-toe footwear is often required as personal protective equipment for workers, insoles are essential for preventing pain and fatigue. Aches and pains in the body associated with foot issues can also impact workers’ knees and back. Understandably, this can result in reduced employee work productivity or absenteeism.
There is a significant advantage to providing insoles vs. traditional anti-fatigue matting for a work environment. The benefits of insoles include a personalized fit and the ability for the worker to be mobile. If orthotics insoles are necessary to correct an existing issue such as pronation, it is important that the orthotic insole supports, corrects, and places the foot back in its natural and neutral position, the optimal position for healthy feet.
Implementing a company insole program is an important decision and all aspects should be considered, including employee involvement, to ensure the program meets the needs of all workers and has a positive impact and acceptance rate.
The Risks of Ignoring Food Support
Employees who work on their feet everyday are at higher risk of MSDs, with back disorders accounting for 49 percent of all work-related injuries. Physical work requirements within manufacturing and similar industries include prolonged standing, static postures, overexertion, and repetitive motion, which can lead to aches, pain, and injuries on the job. Standing or walking for long periods of time within the workplace affects the knee, hip, and back over the long term.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of workers over 65 increased by 101 percent between 1997 and 2007.1 Due to the aging workforce and increased health care costs, insurance premiums and workers’ compensation claims are skyrocketing. Arthritis and other degenerative diseases are on the rise, and the cumulative effects of micro trauma and repetitive stress can build up. In fact, 54 million U.S. adults have arthritis, and that number is expected to reach more than 78 million by 2040, according to a recent CDC study.2 With elderly workers at an increased risk of arthritis,3 it's important to prevent the progression of arthritis with additional foot comfort and support. If it’s left untreated, the condition can quickly force workers to leave their jobs.
Balance is also important as workers age. According to the National Institutes of Health, balance disorders are one reason that older people fall, which can lead to serious injuries. Good balance is key for helping people safely move and remain still, and stay independent as they age. Organizations should look for ways to support employees' balance to help prevent the falls that nearly one-third of adults aged 65 years and older experience each year.4
While back disorders make up nearly half of all work-related injuries, a large portion can be avoided. Feet are the foundation of the body, carrying the burden of weight while supporting the knees, back, and hips. If feet are not properly cared for, this can result in pain, fatigue and damage to the body. If left untreated, this pain can escalate over time and cause issues such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and more MSDs.
Ignoring the issue of foot care can also escalate the impact of shock waves. If feet experience poor shock absorption, it can jolt knees, the back, and hips with each step. The result is joint and muscle pain throughout the body. Hard surfaces, which are common in many workplaces both indoors and outdoors, are especially unforgiving when there is a lack of foot support.
When employees are suffering from pain and fatigue, they are less energetic and productive and morale can take a hit; pain may also lead to lost-time injuries. Thankfully, solutions exist today that can reduce the negative impact of the environment on employees' feet.
Insoles vs. Matting
Organizations usually consider two options to reduce employee pain and fatigue: insoles and floor matting. Personal insoles offer numerous advantages and flexibility to both employees and organizations, making them an attractive solution. These benefits include:
- Ability to wear anywhere. Insoles can be implemented instantly without training and go wherever the worker goes. This makes them an ideal solution for both stationary and mobile workers who work both indoors and outdoors.
- Personalized comfort. Employees can select the type of insole that best matches their needs, allowing for personalized comfort for workers based on their foot size and arch type.
- Direct contact with the body. As insoles are placed inside the footwear, they have 100 percent surface contact with the feet and body 100 percent of the time, providing an ergonomic solution.
- Reduced risk. Insoles reduce the risks of slips, trips, and falls, making the workplace safer and lowering expenses related to workers’ compensation claims. With matting, the edges could curl up and create tripping hazards.
- Easy to implement. Insole programs are simple to implement, particularly if you have conducted a wear trial with a key group of employees first.
- Cost effective. Insoles are more affordable than floor matting. Quality insoles can also stand the test of time, resulting in infrequent replacement.
Consider this example: Imagine a facility that employs 250 workers and is considering the addition of insoles or floor matting. It would cost approximately $25 to provide a pair of personal anti-fatigue insoles for one employee. Multiplied by 250, the total cost to protect every worker is roughly $6,250 per year. In comparison, a brand-name anti-fatigue floor mat for a 3x5 foot workstation would cost roughly $180. In total, for all employees to have matting in their work area, the business would have to invest more than $45,000. The cost savings with insoles is $38,750, and this does not include the time and cost associated with maintaining floor mats, which can become soiled, ripped, and warped. If you decided to provide the workers two insoles per year, you would still be saving more than $32,500 per year.
Choosing the Correct Insole for Each Individual
To select the right insole for each employee, it's essential to determine what is needed most—shock absorption, support, or addressing a pre-existing foot condition. Finding an insole provider that offers numerous customizable and comfortable options allows companies and employees to explore a range of solutions for both plant/warehouse and office workers.
Insoles that provide shock absorption can be used to prevent health and pain issues, while others provide more support to align the foot into the proper neutral position. Insoles that are designed to properly support and comfort feet are not the same as insoles that form or are molded to the exact shape of one’s foot. According to a study done by the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research,5 heat-molding orthotic devices do not have a measurable effect on the biomechanical variables compared to the non-molded condition. Heat-molding insoles lack in providing corrective support because they're not firm enough to provide support. Most importantly, these types of insoles reinforce the incorrect arch that's already causing foot pain and don’t offer pronation control, which would correctively put the foot in a neutral position, and realign it with other body parts.
How to Implement an Insole Program
Organizations looking to implement an insole program should consider the following:
1. Set up a wear test trial. Consider replacing existing anti-fatigue matting with an insole wear test trial program. This program can help establish feedback from employees who are trialing the insoles for a few weeks. This will also increase your acceptance rate of the new program and enable employees to try specific insoles that relate to their needs.
2. Include insoles in a health and wellness program. Include insoles as part of an employee’s health benefits to show that your organization is proactive and cares about its employee wellness and comfort, boosting both employee morale.
3. Consider multiple budgets for funding. Various budgets can be used to cover insoles, such as a company’s PPE, safety, floor matting, uniforms, wellness or footwear programs already in place.
4. Include insoles as part of a PPE and footwear program. Just as gloves might be part of the PPE that you wear to protect your hands at work, so should protective footwear and insoles protect your feet. Replacing insoles on a regular basis may extend the life of protective footwear.
5. Get insoles for everyone. Workers may be stationary for most their shift while others are mobile. Some may only work inside, while others need to complete outdoor tasks. Thus, it's important to get insoles that meet the needs of all workers.
A Step Ahead
Considering the contemporary workforce, organizations want to stay a step ahead in retaining and attracting employees. A perfect way to stay ahead is to look for ways to improve productivity, employee health, job satisfaction, and safety, all having a significant impact on the bottom line.
Many workers experience uncomfortable shock waves that can cause lasting pain and negatively impact productivity. Personal insoles provide a simple way to alleviate the pain associated with shock waves and improper support and can help control work-related risk and prevent costly and long-term health issues.
Insoles offer numerous advantages compared to anti-fatigue mats, including easier installation, reduced costs, and the ability to protect mobile workers. However, there are numerous types of insoles available, and different workers require different insoles to address their desired levels of comfort, support, and varying job functions. For example, if orthotic insoles are needed, they must support, correct, and place the foot back in its natural and neutral position.
Several best practices exist that companies can follow when setting up a corporate insole program, including wear test trials, subsidizing insoles from multiple budgets, and making insoles part of a PPE program. With the right research and knowledge on hand, organizations can choose the most appropriate solutions for their workers and better manage their programs to ensure they realize the many benefits of insoles.
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.