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A Weighty Issue

Republic launches a comprehensive driver fitness program.

A few years ago, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration commissioned a study to review the correlation between sleep apnea and increased body mass index (BMI) and crashes in commercial vehicles. The agency used the results of the study to make a recommendation about the impact of these health factors on safety.

The recommendation got the attention of Shawn Mandel, manager of safety for Phoenix-based Republic Services. Drivers going for their biennial Department of Transportation physicals could find themselves confronted with doctors who have taken the recommendation to heart. Thus, a BMI over 30 could result in a driver having his medical card withheld and losing his commercial drivers license.

Rather than wait for the recommendation to become a binding federal regulation, Mandel and others at Republic saw an opportunity to be proactive and help their employees. They presented the company's executive team with a comprehensive fitness program including in-house fitness centers, personal trainers, nutritional counseling, Web-based coaching, and biometric studies. A pilot at Republic's Phoenix facilities ran from Dec. 2009 to March 2010.

To enroll, 41 workers filled out a form detailing what they hoped to achieve, then consulted with a doctor. Former NFL defensive lineman Dave Laverne was retained to help workers devise a workout regimen.

Mandel asked participants why they signed up. One 400-lb. driver felt chastened after seeing his doctor write down "obese" during his latest physical. Another was distraught that carrying so much extra weight meant he spent Saturday, his day off, recuperating on the couch, rather than playing with his two-year-old daughter.

"We've got some success stories of people losing upwards of 50 or 60 pounds over that initial 90-day [pilot] period," says Mandel. "We're seeing increased morale, increased key performance measurements on the productivity side. Obviously, the weight loss is great. We've got folks that have stopped smoking, got their diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol under control."

Of the 41 who entered the program, 34 have stayed. A key to its success, says Mandel, is the ease with which it is incorporated into workers' daily schedule. "The program is designed so it's only a 30- to 45-minute workout. It's right on site. There's a little bit of peer pressure, and that's kind of good. Before you know it, we've got eight, 10 folks at a time in our fitness center motivating one another through the process."

A second pilot phase will roll the program out to eight other locations around the country this year. "There is a cost to the organization for it, but our executive management team has really taken a strong position that our employees are worth it," says Mandel. "We recognize the fact that it creates a healthier workforce that is, in turn, a safer workforce."

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