Integrating health risks into a wellbeing strategy

All workplace risks should be integrated into an employer’s health and wellbeing strategy.

A health and wellbeing strategy is essential for all employers, integrating any workplace risks that could impact their workforce, particularly for organisations in high-risk sectors such as oil and gas.

This sector differs from others in that a large section of staff work offshore for extended periods of time, resulting in distinctly different working practices, which has implications for employees’ health, safety and wellbeing.

But not all healthcare risks are obvious. Age-associated risks are a case in point. The 2011 UKCS Workforce demographic report, published by Oil and Gas UK in October 2011, highlighted that the average age of offshore workers is 41, indicating that skills retention must be managed effectively to ensure industry sustainability.

Matthew Halle, operations manager at NES Global Talent, says more than 50% of oil and gas engineers will retire in the next five to 10 years, resulting in a significant skills gap. So the ageing workforce is a key risk factor for the sector. But the need for employers, whatever their sector, to work with employees to ensure optimum health and wellbeing to mitigate against a widening skills gap and similar issues, is key.

Lifestyle-related illnesses

Employers should also consider the impact of dramatic rises in lifestyle-related illnesses such as cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity. These illnesses are having a significant impact on employee productivity globally, as highlighted by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Non-communicable diseases, Country profiles 2011, published in September 2011.

Employers should also identify individual and group health risks within a business from the perspective of human resources, occupational health and health and safety departments. A united approach is best practice.

That said, the focus of occupational health departments can often be reactive rather than preventative, and if they work independently of HR, the opportunity to collate and identify key trends in sickness absence is lost.

Long-term absence

Many health risks can result in long-term absence, but brief and focused interventions can bring significant benefits for employers. For example, robust return-to-work programmes, including tools such as functional capacity evaluation, allow employers to gauge when an employee is fit to return to functional duties.

But staff need to be encouraged, through health promotion activities, to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, including understanding workplace risks.

The workplace is now a well-established setting for health promotion, thanks to the WHO’s strategy Health for all, which was introduced in 1980. It was further defined in 1986 in The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, which took steps to integrate health promotion and sustainable development globally. As a result, enlightened employers are taking a partnership approach by working with their employees to improve their health and wellbeing.

These employers recognise that a comprehensive health and wellbeing strategy provides bespoke short-, medium- and long-term outcome measures, which should be evaluated to demonstrate economic benefit. It is only when economic benefits can be demonstrated that long-term employee health and wellbeing will be embedded within an overall corporate strategy to help manage workplace risks.

KEY POINTS

  • Workplace health risks should be an integral part of a health and wellbeing strategy.
  • Employers should understand the impact of dramatic increases in lifestyle-related illnesses such as cancer.
  • Self-management should be embedded into employers’ health and wellbeing strategies for employees.

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Gil Barton is senior lecturer and health promotion specialist at the School of Health Sciences, Robert Gordon University