The Need For Change!

Workplace Health, Safety & Wellness Programs

Workplace wellness programs are putting ‘health’ back into occupational  health and safety. Health and safety drivers have grown from a focus on reducing workers compensation costs. Employers who have achieved excellent safety records by minimising physical, chemical and ergonomic hazards and injury risks have used this as a platform to expand into wellness and prevention initiatives.

Pioneering research by Laura Punnett of the University of Massachusetts has suggested that a host of factors is related to musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace—ranging far beyond safety-oriented measures such as the mechanics of lifting, posture, etc, and encompassing such factors as socioeconomic status and lifestyle behaviors. When these multivariate factors are addressed together, the potential for overall health gains in employees is increased.

For example, the health and safety of its workforce has always been important to Rio Tinto. Wellness is seen as an extension of health and safety because the company recognises that a healthy workforce is a safer workforce. As such, Rio Tinto’s corporate wellness program complements its occupational health and safety measures. The program focuses on screening, assessing and managing a range of health risks and illnesses facing many of its employees, such as sedentary lifestyles, poor diet, stress,smoking, obesity and mental health.

For health and economic reasons, investing in employee health makes sound business sense. Workplace wellness initiatives deliver value on two fronts: they can decrease costs and improve productivity, and also improve health for all, supporting behavioural change in individuals, families and communities. A study conducted with almost 30,000 employees in 15 countries showed that 64% of employees who perceive the organization for which they work as an active promoter of health and wellness intend to stay at least five years with their companies (World Economic Forum, 2010c).

Most compelling in establishing the link between safety and wellness are “sequencing” studies, indicating that participation by employees in wellness programs is less likely when such programs are introduced in workplaces with unaddressed safety issues. The research suggests that a firm foundation of solid safety efforts is necessary before an organizational wellness effort can yield optimal results—a powerful argument for the integration of the safety and wellness silos. A combination of safety and wellness appears to be necessary to move an organization forward in adopting a true culture of health. A new way of approaching these two vital activity centers is needed—one that will integrate them into a concept called “work- place health protection and promotion.” This is the path to creating a sustainable culture of health Simply defined, workplace health protection and promotion is the strategic and systematic integration of distinct environmental, health, and safety policies and programs into a continuum of activities that enhances the overall health and well-being of the workforce and prevents work-related injuries and illnesses.

Employers should act now if they want to keep operating successfully and to create sustainable workforces that can withstand the serious human capital challenges ahead. It must be understood that the three key challenges of talent shortage, ageing and chronic diseases are intricately interconnected. As economies grow and mature, the demand for talent goes up. However, driven by the same trends of globalization and urbanization and the ensuing shift in lifestyles, supply is dwindling: populations age and their health deteriorates. Older people are more likely to get ill, but chronic disease also severely impacts people in their productive years, causing premature death. The amount of productive workers decreases, the talent crunch becomes ever more severe: a vicious cycle ensues.

Presently, many companies deliver a single component of a comprehensive solution, resulting in a patchwork of uncoordinated programs, often delivered by multiple vendors, with limited consistency or integration. Corporate Work Health Australia provide complete and comprehensive solutions targeted to specific organisational needs, providing much greater return investment for our clients.

Key areas we differ include:

1. Tailoring program design to suit specific company’s needs—currently employers feel there are too many ‘off-the-shelf’ products.

2. Upgrading the models of delivery (e.g. by providing multiple modes of delivery and breadth of services) to enable increased impact and integration.

3. Clarifying the program offerings and their evidence base at the commencement of a program and identifying how they will meet the need.

4. Robust and consistent monitoring and measurement of program performance – seeking input from employers and find out what is needed to support the value of the investment.

5. Quarterly meetings to re-assess figures and ensure our programs are providing results.

Corporate Work Health Australia understands the many and complex issues with which organisations are faced and uses our expertise to set up programs holistically which reflect these interdependencies. This ensures our programs are successful and organisations can see a measurable return on their investment.

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