Screenings can be an effective part of a holistic approach to employee health, especially if there are particular local risks.
Looking after employees’ health and wellbeing is fundamental to being a responsible employer. But it should not be seen as just doing the right thing by employees; it is also about improving business performance. Health and wellbeing affect staff productivity and safety, and the working environment, in turn, affects staff health and wellbeing.
As a mining company, we have many occupational health hazards that must be managed, but we also recognise that our employees’ lifestyles and the environments in which they live affect them too.
The health of our employees is core to our business. As a global company with operations in developing countries, our workforce faces diverse healthcare challenges. Together with safety, improving health is integrated into our business operations.
Our health and wellness programmes include free assessments that address such issues as cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, smoking, chronic diseases, HIV/Aids and tuberculosis. Participating employees are given a personalised report, providing an assessment of their health, as well as broad recommendations for health improvement.
South Africa, where a lot of our operations are based, has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world; more than five million South Africans are thought to have the disease.
In response to this, we run the world’s largest private sector programme for employees and their families. It is the result of a commitment to combat HIV/Aids that began in the mid-1980s. In 2002, we started to provide anti-retroviral therapy (ART) for employees and in 2008 for their dependants. Today, 92% of our employees in South Africa check their status each year. We estimate that almost 12,000 of our staff are HIV positive; 5,332 currently receive ART.
Capture and manage data
Our programme continues to evolve as we learn more about the problem and the best way to tackle it. For example, the ability to capture and manage data using information systems has proved critical to our thermal coal business.
The business introduced a health record programme in 2007, disproving initial claims that it would be impossible to gather large volumes of confidential health-related information. After conducting more than 100,000 tests, we have never had a single formal challenge for breach of confidentiality or stigmatisation.
We have achieved this by using an electronic health record system, The Health Source, which enables real-time, confidential tracking of individuals’ health information. At a glance, health professionals can see when an individual became HIV positive, when treatment began, their current viral load and CD4 count (a white blood cell that indicates the stage of HIV or Aids). The system also prompts actions, for example flagging a patient who has not had a CD4 count check.
HIV testing campaigns
The success of our HIV testing campaigns has led to other screening initiatives. In 2011, we launched the Icare programme at our Johannesburg campus, providing broad-based health screening to employees. We are also using the knowledge and experience gained through our workplace health programmes to support community outreach programmes, with the aim of strengthening community health systems.
The business approach to managing health and wellbeing must be holistic, with a good dose of ambition and innovation. Businesses should seek to prevent harm from exposure to the working environment and to continuously drive improvement of employee health and wellbeing.
- Employees’ lifestyles must be factored into workplace health strategies.
- Screenings are central to Anglo American’s HIV/Aids programme.
- Employers should always take a holistic approach to workplace health.
Doctor Frank Fox is head of occupational health at Anglo American