Efforts to implement a physical readiness program in a public safety agency are often met with considerable resistance. In some instances, the concerns around a department-based program are legitimate; much more frequently however, the concerns, labor’s and management’s, are unnecessarily laden with ‘emotional baggage’ that hides the real agenda. We’ve all heard the arguments:

These and many more arguments (for and) against health and fitness programming exist and impede the implementation of it.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with issues such as these, the bottom line is lost in discussion. And that bottom line is this: the performance goal of a health and fitness program is to change behavior. To change to a healthier lifestyle that includes regular activity or exercise in addition to maintaining a healthy body weight, practicing good nutritional habits, reducing known health risks, avoiding alcohol and substance abuse, stopping smoking, and managing stress. Individual, department and community efforts should be directed at this goal and responsibilities to the same end need to be assumed as all parties clearly benefit from a physically ready workforce.

Benefits: For the Individual

Let’s review some of those excuses.
“Its management’s problem, I’m not doing anything for nothing.”
In fact, a recent review of workers’ compensation claims in a state with a presumption law revealed that the majority of the claims were due to off-duty cardiovascular events; most were found to be non-compensable and preventable thus putting the responsibility on the officer or the surviving family.

"Why waste my time? Nothing’s going to happen to me.”
There are at least two issues with this one: 1. A lack of fitness is certainly a contributor to the increased morbidity rates (incidence of disease) and mortality rates (death) among law enforcement officers versus the general population, and 2. Published and non-published research continues to implicate a lack of fitness as a contributing factor when law enforcement officers are disarmed and assaulted in the line of duty.

The bottom line for the public safety officer on the job, an improved level of personal fitness will mean many things. Among the benefits fitter officers and firefighters enjoy:

Benefits: For the Department

“It’s labor’s responsibility, we pay them — they should take care of themselves and their fitness.”
In one jurisdiction, communities and their police departments were informed their health insurance premiums would become cost prohibitive if a health and fitness program was not installed.

“A program is too expensive for us to undertake.”
Industry estimates suggest several dollars are returned for every dollar invested in a health and fitness program. A recent review of health promotion and disease management programs estimates the return on investment for these programs range from $1.49 – 4.91 (median $3.67) for every dollar invested on prevention. This is in contrast to the calculated cost of an in-service heart attack, estimated at 400 – 750K! Further, national accident, injury, and illness data have clearly established that 20% of the average law enforcement agency’s workforce is responsible for 80% of the cost of those incidents.

Finally, if the big, single incident doesn’t get you, consider:

The take away point is all parties — labor, management, and host community, bear significant cost(s) when a relatively unfit, unprepared, and apparently unhealthy workforce continues to operate without a health and fitness program.