Loss of Coworkers Inspires Cast-Fab's Push for Wellness

Loss of Coworkers Inspires Cast-Fab's Push for Wellness

By Peter B. Alpern

Taking a vigorous approach to health is nothing new to Cast-Fab Technologies. For years, the Cincinnati-based manufacturer has offered its employees a fulltime nurse, annual physicals, and free educational programs on nutrition. But earlier this year the company and its employees were compelled to work to develop a healthier lifestyle.

Cast-Fab is a combination foundry and fabricating job shop, specializing in gray and ductile iron castings, heavy steel and sheet metal fabrications, and precision CNC machining.

The combination of metalcasting and fabrication is unusual for a single enterprise, and Cast-Fab aims to be somewhat distinctive in its human resources management, too.

The organization completed the first step in its newly crafted, incentives-based wellness program by having employees take part in a month-long walkathon. With support from the American Heart Association, 66 employees walked a combined 2,200 miles on indoor and outdoor tracks setup at the Cast-Fab plant.

“We did this as a challenge,” explained Farley Houston, vice president of human resources. “It was a four-week challenge to get people to stop being sedentary, to live a more active lifestyle by getting up and walking.”

According to Houston, over the past year the midsized manufacturer has been rocked by the loss of four co-workers to fatal illnesses. Three of the deaths came as a result of heart attack, and one by stroke.

“We’re a 300-person company,” said Houston. “We’ll go years and not have anybody pass away. When we had four, it really impacted a lot of people here.”

Cast-Fab held a fundraiser in conjunction with the American Heart Assn. in December 2008 and kicked off the wellnessincentive program in January. During that month, workers hit the tracks, often forsaking sneakers for the comforts of their steel-toed boots.

“I’m pretty active to begin with, so I was happy to participate,” said James Payne, a foundry molder. “It was a great way to break up the day and get in some good exercise.”

Although 66 employees participated, it represents only one-fifth of Cast-Fab’s workforce. For the management, this is reinforcing how difficult it is to establish a culture of healthy physical activity.

“That’s always the challenge,” said Steve Ferguson, a benefits consultant at USI Midwest, which offers insurance to Cast-Fab. He says Cast-Fab’s program appears to be part of a broader healthcare trend, in which employers are tying health condition to employee contributions.

“You’re seeing more employers go through the assessment phase and identify certain factors that affect health status, such as smoking,” says Ferguson. “And, based on those health conditions, employee contributions then are varied based on the healthiness of the individual.”

Still, at Cast-Fab, the biggest motivator has been the issues that hit closer to home.

“We see this as an issue of rising health care costs, but also a matter of looking at our coworkers and friends and just being shocked by those four deaths,” said Houston. “It was something on people’s minds, and it provided the impetus for getting ourselves healthy.”

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