What we do right
Like other flight surgeons in the Air National Guard, a sizable chunk of my time has been devoted to occupational health practices. The best thing we do is ensure a safe workplace by instituting protections from noise, radiation, chemicals, particulates and other environmental hazards. Peoples’ jobs should not hurt them – even if they’re training for combat.**
The next best thing we do is give flu shots and other immunizations. After having been laid low in college with viral influenza and its muscle aches, headache, teeth-chattering chills and, of course, cough, it is deeply satisfying to give people armor against that experience and its potentially serious complications. Without doubt, immunizations are one of the greatest inventions in human history and their safety profile, while not perfect, is outstanding.**
What we could do better**
Unfortunately, we do not do everything in our power to frustrate and combat tobacco use. We should, and so should all employers. All employers should prohibit both smoking and chewing on their entire premises, at all times. All employers should provide strong smoking cessation programs and assistance. If some employees are under age 26, strong programs should discourage the initiation of tobacco use. All other general health concerns are secondary. Perks, incentives, and similar methods should be used to their utmost. Every employee who quits smoking, or who never starts, is doing the single best thing possible for his or her health. Employers win, too, because absenteeism decreases and health care expenditures decrease.**
Finally, employers should be mindful of their incredible influence on the mental hhealth of their employees (and, therefore, on their substance use, too). Being prescriptive on this topic is difficult, but the Golden Rule would seem to be excellent guidance.**
The opinions stated herein are the author’s, and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of Defense.