Cherriots Earns Healthy Employer AwardAug 22, 2017

The Cherriots wellness program earned an eighth place for this year’s Healthiest Employers of Oregon awards.

Cherriots received the award on Aug.18 at the HR Summit and Healthiest Employers of Oregon event, which was held at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Portland. The event is sponsored by the Portland Business Journal. The Salem area transit district won in the category of organizations with 100 to 499 employees.

After overhauling its wellness program in 2016, Cherriots trimmed its workers’ compensation and health insurance costs. An employee-driven wellness committee, and promoting the use of Fitbits to encourage employees to exercise, helped Cherriots reach its goals for creating a healthier workforce.

“One of the important benefits of the whole wellness program is the culture change that it’s brought to the organization,” said Allan Pollock, general manager for Cherriots.

The district’s workers’ compensation renewal cost dropped by $100,000 last year, Cherriots officials said. The transit district also expects to achieve an approximately $14,000 savings in health care insurance cost in 2017.

Just a few years ago, Cherriots experienced a spike in workers’ compensation claims for soft tissue injuries of the shoulder, lower back and neck. Health insurance data showed that the number of employees seeking treatment for chronic diseases had nearly doubled in a year.

Lack of exercise likely contributed to the health problems. The district’s primary business-- operating bus routes -- created an additional challenge for the wellness program. Transit operators spend most of their workday sitting behind the steering wheel of a bus.

“You’re locked into a seat for hours,” said Michiel Majors, a Cherriots safety and loss control specialist. Majors, who joined Cherriots two years ago, led the effort to create a more effective wellness program.

Majors knew that Cherriots employees had to get more steps into their daily routine. He put together a plan and presented it to the Cherriots management team, which agreed to spend $20,000 of the district’s 2015 SAIF dividend on a Fitbit wellness initiative.

Fitbit devices track physical activity, such as daily steps, calories burned and heart rate. Employees taking part in the program, which provides them with a Fitbit free of charge, agree to wear the devices and walk at least 5,500 steps daily.

Nearly 60 percent of Cherriots 180 employees currently participate in the Fitbit wellness initiative. After one year, about 36 percent of the Cherriots Fitbit users said they had lost 10 or more pounds. And nearly 85 percent of the Fitbit users said the program helped them feel better or become healthier.

Cherriots enhanced other parts of its wellness program. For example, it has encouraged healthy eating habits with a weekly delivery of fresh fruits to employee break rooms. It held a Wellness Fair for employees, where health care and insurance experts answered employee questions.

After achieving results that exceeded expectations, Cherriots has approved a plan to spend an additional $20,000 of its SAIF dividend reimbursement for the district’s wellness plan in fiscal 2017-18.

This is the first year that Cherriots has applied for the Healthiest Employers of Oregon. Approximately 60 organizations statewide submitted applications for the award.