Occupational Health: improving employee health at work

The Marmot review and the Black report, ‘Working for a Healthier Tomorrow’ highlight the well documented effects that the work environment has on employee health. People spend 60% of their waking lives at work and so the workplace is a perfect hub for health promotion.

Health promotion is important because employees are the driving force to any organisation, employers also have a legal duty under Health and Safety legislation to promote a healthy work place and provide health surveillance should a risk assessment identify the need for it.

The HSE reports that within a 12 month period (13/14) an estimated 23,511 working days are lost due to illness caused or made worse by current or most recent job. (Source – Table WRIOCC6 – 2013/14)

An unhealthy workforce impacts on the whole workplace productivity from loss of work days and increased pressure on other employees which in turn lowers work morale, leading to more loss of work days. This in turn lowers business profits and the quality of product/service that customers are paying to receive may also bruise your reputation on comparison websites.

There are a lot of benefits that businesses will gain by simply influencing the norms and changing workforce attitudes toward healthy eating and exercise. To name a few:

  • Fewer days lost resulting in higher productivity and quality of work;
  • Employees having a sense of self-worth within the workforce and willing to contribute ideas for succession;
  • Improves employee recruitment and retention;
  • Build relationships with other businesses;
  • Returning to work earlier following an illness;
  • Leadership within the community to promote reputation and generate favourable publicity;
  • Employee’s families will also benefit from the healthy lifestyle improvements and reduced stress levels.

Better Health at Work project (BHAW)

In 2004 the BHAW Team within Kirklees Council was established with the aims to; improve the health of people who live and/or work in Kirklees; enable people to return to work earlier from sickness (or prevent absence); Reduced costs to businesses through reduced sickness absence; improve mental wellbeing/resilience of people who work in Kirklees businesses; prevent people falling out of work and onto benefits due to illness.

Within eight years of the BHAW project Kirklees council, with the help of funding and partnerships, worked with 36 local employers, reaching out to 17,500 employees. As a result of this;

  • 60% of the participants surveyed were able to make a positive lifestyle change;
  • 3000 patients returned to work earlier than planned;
  • Helped 300 small businesses to comply with health and safety legislation.

(Source –CIEH ‘Our Health, our wellbeing: Environmental health – securing a healthier future for all’, 2012)

How can businesses get involved?

There are numerous ways that businesses can get their employees to engage in prevention of occupational health. The first step would be to assess the workforce and devise clear policies and aims within a realistic timeframe so that you can review the programme. Check that your Local Authority are not already doing a programme for local businesses. You may also want to have conversations with other local businesses to discuss mutual benefit or business rates.

Here are a few healthy lifestyle ideas:

  • Install bike racks to encourage cycling to work;
  • Install showers into workplace;
  • Internal webpage with a list of local activities during dinner;
  • Health champions to promote lunchtime activities;
  • Walk to work scheme;
  • newsletter – health advice, tips and recipes, local information etc;
  • Fruit available during meetings;
  • Healthy food choices in the canteen;
  • Encourage the use of stairs.