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Company Check Workers' Fat, Saves on Healthcare

Posted by Steven D.

LINCOLN, Nebraska (CNN) -- Lincoln Industries looks like a typical blue-collar plant -- workers cutting, bending, plating and polishing steel for products such as motorcycle tailpipes and truck exhausts amid the din of machinery.

Howard Tegtmeier, right, leads co-workers in stretching before their shift starts at Lincoln Industries.

Howard Tegtmeier, right, leads co-workers in stretching before their shift starts at Lincoln Industries.

But the 565-employee Nebraska company is different.

Lincoln Industries has three full-time employees devoted to "wellness," and offers on-site massages and pre-shift stretching.

Most unusual of all: The company requires all employees to undergo quarterly checkups measuring weight, body fat and flexibility. It also conducts annual blood, vision and hearing tests.

"When you get the encouragement from somebody to help you with nutrition and to help with a more active lifestyle, it makes it easier to be able to attain a lifestyle that most people want to attain anyway," says Hank Orme, president of Lincoln Industries.

The program has been in place 16 years.

The company ranks workers on their fitness, from platinum, gold and silver down to "non-medal." To achieve platinum, they must reach fitness goals and be nonsmokers -- and the company offers smoking cessation classes.

For employees, reaching platinum means a three-day, company-paid trip each summer to climb a 14,000-foot peak in Colorado. This year, 103 qualified, the most ever. And 70 made the climb.

For the company, the payoff is significantly lower health-care costs. The company pays less than $4,000 per employee, about half the regional average and a savings of more than $2 million. That makes the $400,000 Lincoln Industries spends each year on wellness a bargain. Video Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta on wellness at work ยป

"The return on investment is extraordinary," Orme says.

The investment in "wellness" pays other dividends, according to Orme. He says fitter workers are more productive, have better morale and are safer. As evidence, he points to worker's compensation claims. Ongoing safety training and an increasingly fit workforce have pushed worker's comp costs down from $500,000 five years ago to less than $10,000 so far this year.

Seven years ago, shift leader Howard Tegtmeier was in the non-medal category. The 49-year-old smoked, drank, was overweight and took 12 pills a day to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

"I just made the decision it was time to change my life, and the wellness program showed me ways to do that," Tegtmeier says.

Tegtmeier says he no longer smokes or drinks. His weight is down from 230 to 180, thanks to diet and exercise. His cholesterol and blood pressure are also down, and he says he no longer needs medication.

Tonya Vyhlidal, Wellness and Life Enhancement director, says Lincoln Industries doesn't pressure workers who don't want to participate. But sooner or later, she says, the company's "culture" attracts most employees to live healthier lives.

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