Monday | 12 March, 2012 | 9:31 am

Workplace wellness

By Nick Wright

Gallatin Steel receives award for making employee, community health a priority

March 2012 - The classical images of steel working that come to mind—perhaps a silhouette of a hard-hat-clad figure against the red glow of a furnace or a worker attending to a sparking vat of molten metal—aren’t always associated with the healthiest of environments. However, Gallatin Steel, Ghent, Ky., is reshaping that image with its leadership in health and wellness.

This past December, the flat-rolled carbon steel producer received the 2011 Community Spirit in Public Health Award from the Three Rivers District Health Department, Owenton, Ky., the local board of health. It’s the fourth time in the last five years Gallatin has been recognized for its initiatives supporting employee and public well-being, says Cathy Hanley, general manager of human resources and public relations.

“Having healthy associates is absolutely essential to our business,” she says.

Gallatin, a joint venture between ArcelorMittal and Gerdau Ameristeel, offers a three-mile jogging trail and a 2,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art fitness center open 24 hours a day, seven days a week as well as wellness committees, doctors and counselors all available on-site for its 470 employees. The company also has maintained a tobacco-free worksite since the beginning of 2008. Tobacco isn’t permitted anywhere at the company, including parking lots, company vehicles, production areas or break rooms, according to Hanley. It’s a policy that has yielded positive results.

“Gallatin’s latest aggregate health screen results show that the percent of our associates who use tobacco has dropped from 25 percent to 11 percent over the last four years,” she says. In 2009, a Three Rivers District Health Department survey revealed the community’s top health concerns were high adult and youth smoking rates as well as smoking related-cancer rates, according to a press release.

In addition to its internal efforts, Gallatin hosted a wellness fair in 2011 where it offered free wellness screenings for visitors.

With a 98 percent participation rate in annual biometric screening, employees who meet certain health tests results can reduce their healthcare premiums. Interactive Health Solutions, a Chicago-based company that provides preventative healthcare programs for employers, named Gallatin one of the manufacturing industry’s Healthiest Companies in America in 2007, 2008 and 2009—twice for having excellent biometric results among all employment sectors.

“We feel that our wellness program has had a direct and positive influence on Gallatin’s medical premiums,” Hanley says.

Maintaining health
To sustain its health initiatives, many of the programs at Gallatin come with incentives. Employees can partake in competitions and challenges to encourage physical activity. This benefits not only individuals but also improves safety and company pride.

“The most-effective promotion tool may be our annual $1,000 healthy lifestyle benefit provided to every associate and every dependent. The benefit covers fees for gym memberships, weight-loss programs, tobacco cessation programs, dietician services, personal trainer services and stress-management programs,” Hanley says.

However, with all the amenities and support in place, the work schedule can make it difficult to stay on top of fitness.

“One of our biggest challenges is our work schedule,” Hanley says. “Rotating 12-hour shifts makes healthy eating and regular exercise particularly difficult habits to maintain.”

At the entrance of Gallatin’s plant, which sits on the Ohio River’s banks about halfway between Louisville and Cincinnati, reads a sign: “Every job, the safe way, every time.” It serves as the company’s motto, which it emphasizes in and out of the workplace. It’s a trend that Gallatin sees the steel industry continually is working toward: improving safety while fostering wellness.

“In a plant with high productivity, ensuring that safety remains the No. 1 focus at all times can be challenging. Our associates understand that productivity is very important but can never be achieved at the expense of safety,” says Hanley. “Improving one’s health has a direct influence on both productivity and morale.” MM

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