The ‘health’ in health & safety

25th of September 2015
The ‘health’ in health & safety

ECJ has a new correspondent in the UK, Lynn Webster. In her first column she focuses on the issue of health and well-being in the workplace.

Open any newspaper or glossy magazine, check what’s trending on social media, or tune into a selection of television channels and what do you find? Medically proven routes to healthy living, fad diets, exercise regimes and more are presented to us on a more than daily basis, encouraging changes to our current habits that will ensure a healthier, and of course happier, life.

Sometimes, but perhaps not often enough, the workplace is mentioned in relation to health. Given that many of us spend a large part of our waking life at work we ignore the impact of workplace on individual health at very real cost – cost to the individual and the employer alike.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a healthy workplace as one where “workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace”.

Examples, as defined by WHO, of the identified needs lying at the heart of this process include: health and well-being concerns in relation to the psychosocial work environment; attention to personal health resources in the workplace and participation in the community as a means of improving worker health.

The psychosocial work environment takes in workplace culture and working practices, encouraging a focus on factors that might directly relate to stress in the workplace. While employers and HR specialists might readily quote the direct correlation between stress, reduced productivity and the resulting negative effect on profitability, taking practical action to tackle workplace stress is often argued to be difficult, presenting insurmountable challenges to management and staff alike.

Gone are the days when treating workers to an annual day trip to the seaside was deemed enough to keep them happy and productive!

But organisations that address these challenges reap very real qualitative and quantitative benefits. Organisations are implementing measures and changes that facilitate and support a healthy workplace, measures and changes directly addressing the WHO-defined issues. Personal health resources might include offering reasonably priced healthy alternatives to salt- and sugar-laden snacks; workplace initiatives to encourage cycling or walking to work and even access to exercise or relaxation classes at break times.

Involvement in community projects is proven to have a major impact on personal well-being, with a positive knock-on in the workplace and at home. Encouraging employees to share their skills with community projects or volunteer in a practical capacity, perhaps for a few hours of their work time per month, can be a worthwhile investment in a healthy, human resource.

It should go without saying that employee well-being is also directly related to working in a clean, safe and hygienic workplace. Within the industry we recognise the health issues arising from misuse of chemicals and equipment and implement effective training that seeks to address these.

A healthy workplace approach also needs to find ways of helping managers and staff alike to identify the symptoms of stress, setting in place practical processes and support mechanisms that readily support healthy and safe working practices.

 

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