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Sanford Lab seeks employee input to improve and build health and wellness initiative
Constance Walter

In her Forbes Magazine article about health and wellness, Naz Beheshti said that healthy and engaged employees, along with a strong workplace culture, are the secret to business success.

“Healthy employees are happier and show higher rates of job satisfaction. Engaged employees show up to work with a bounce in their step and are less vulnerable to stress, a significant driver of poor health,” Beheshti writes. 

That’s not a surprise to the Sanford Underground Research Facility, where the focus on a culture of safety includes a commitment to developing strong health and wellness programs. 

“Our goal is to encompass physical, mental wellbeing and personal growth into everyday work life,” said Laura Baatz, occupational nurse at Sanford Lab. “Research shows that workplace health programs can decrease absenteeism, have a strong impact on retention, engage employees, increase communication and make employees feel valued and appreciated.”

Workplace health promotion programs also help reduce such health risks as high blood pressure, high glucose and high cholesterol. The ESH Advisory Committee recently praised Sanford Lab’s workplace programs, saying: 

“[The] Wellness Program improvement efforts and initiatives, including the addition of an Occupational Health RN and development of a Fatigue Management Program are a big success. … Other labs will learn from how you are implementing them.”

The New England Journal of Medicine reported that for every 1 percent drop in total cholesterol, the risk of having a heart attack dropped by 2 to 3 percent. And for each one-point drop in elevated diastolic blood pressure, there is another 2 to 3 percent drop in the risk of heart disease.

Low health risks are the foundation of good health, and workplace health promotion programs are a great way to help employees and their spouses avoid elevated health risks. Additionally, studies show that for every $1 spent on employee wellness, there is an average return on investment of $5.81.

Past Sanford Lab health and wellness programs focused on exercise, mental health and hydration. But the ESH team understands there’s always more to do.  

“We have received a few suggestions from employees about how to improve our programs and welcome all suggestions for future challenges,” said Michelle Andresen, Environment, Safety and Health (ESH) safety coordinator at Sanford Lab. “That’s why we are asking for additional suggestions that we can research to see if we can implement them in future challenges.”

ESH will hold a workshop on July 23 to brainstorm the next SURF challenges. To prepare for the workshop, ESH will send out a survey on July 16; the deadline to complete the survey is July 22. Sanford Lab team members can also email their ideas to Laura or Michelle. 

Andresen began working at Sanford Lab in 2013 and is pleased with the additional emphasis on employee wellness over the past year. 

“Since I started at SURF, the department’s main focus has been safety—and it always will be,” Andresen said. “But I’m really excited that we are incorporating initiatives such as health challenges and mental wellness. This new focus is uplifting and can be very involved timewise, but it’s worth it to have employees comment on how much they enjoyed the challenges/wellness activities. And the praise from the recent ESHAC Review proves that.”

The Environment, Safety and Health Department at Sanford Underground Research Facility promotes health and safety in the workplace, as well as healthy living and wellness for all employees. If you have questions about health and wellness, please contact our occupational health nurse, Laura Baatz, who is onsite daily at