Written by: Barry Waldman
Leigh Ann Conto, a project accountant at Frampton Construction in Ladson, committed to establishing a home workout routine and making healthier food choices last year. She embarked on a five-day-a-week workout accompanied by her dogs and began bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to work for snacks. Her fitness improved and she lost six pounds, even though weight loss was not her focus.
In 2019, the American Heart Association (AHA) began teaming up with the construction industry to improve the heart health and overall fitness of industry employees. The 15,000 people employed in construction in the Lowcountry do not have a sterling fitness résumé. A quarter of them smoke, and a quarter are obese. Half do not exercise enough. That puts them at risk of cardiovascular diseases like strokes and heart attacks.
Frampton signed on to the initiative, called Hard Hats with Heart, to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. The Heart Association provides resources and tools to area construction-related companies, including a heart risk assessment and a health-tracking tool. The organization offers guidance on developing wellness programs and educational information for dissemination to employees.
“The American Heart Association is a great partner in helping to make workplace wellness a priority. They have come out to our job site to train our employees in Hands-Only CPR,” said Josh VanScoy, Vice President of HITT Contracting Inc.
How to Improve the Health of Your Employees
In response to the initiative, Frampton established a company wellness program, provided healthier food choices to employees, and put health messages on video screens. They created a free smoothie bar to encourage staff to avoid sugary soft drinks, says Allison Crouch, AHA director of development.
“We don’t encourage people to change everything about their lifestyle all at once. Choose one small goal at a time – less soda, more water, walking during lunch, etc.,” she said.
The AHA raises money via corporate sponsorships in order to make the program free to companies and their employees. Virtual events in 2020 raised almost $200,000 despite the interruption of COVID, but more importantly, it spread the Heart Association message and established year-round relationships with corporate partners. Crouch says they hope eventually to export the program to other industries that need it and can provide industry advocates to encourage adoption.
Health is a Productivity Issue
Employee health is an immense concern of employers who subsidize health insurance and seek to maximize productivity, It is particularly critical to the construction industry, whose labor shortage is preventing some businesses from increasing their footprint. “People don’t know the role the American Heart Association plays in workforce development,” Crouch said. “Heart disease is 80% preventable, so our efforts will save lives and create a more productive workforce.”
AHA focuses on six areas of improvement in their workplace health initiatives: nutrition, physical activity, risk factor management, mental and social well-being, tobacco use and environmental changes. It encourages employers to make the healthy choice the easy choice for employees and to provide tools that help them determine their risks and take action to manage them.