Using benefits to support employees with sports-related injuries

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• Most large employers offer some level of support to help staff lead a healthy life, ranging from gym membership to charity sports events.
• Employees are typically expected to take responsibility for their own health and safety when taking part in work-related sports activities.
• Employers operating in-house gyms have a duty of care towards employees who use them.
• Employee benefits for sports-related injuries may be offered in the form of cash plans and on-site massage.

Case study: BP oils the wheels for staff fitness

BP Oil International offers its employees a wide range of fitness benefits, including subsidised gym membership, sports clubs and a bikes-for-work scheme.

The employer’s aim is to increase employee engagement and promote a healthy lifestyle.

Angie Du Plessis, health, safety and environment adviser at BP, says: “We are fully aware of the importance of keeping our staff fit and healthy.”

The company also offers an in-house team of physiotherapists. “We have a team that specialises in sports massage to support employees who have musculoskeletal problems,” says Du Plessis.

But if employees are injured outside the workplace, they are responsible for their own treatment, she explains.

Employers are recognising the advantages of a fit and healthy workforce, but they must also consider the risks associated with employees’ sporting activities, says Viola Caon

Employers are increasingly promoting a healthy lifestyle to employees to help optimise their wellbeing. From external gym membership, in-house gyms and bikes-for-work schemes to charity sporting events and health education sessions, the options are wide and varied.

According to theEmployee Benefits/Cigna UK HB healthcare research 2012, published in June, 20% of employers offer subsidised gym/sports facilities as a core benefit and 31% offer them on a voluntary basis.

The benefits of helping staff remain fit and healthy are clear. Research conducted last February by Tel Aviv University found that by inspiring workers to be physically active, employers could reduce absenteeism, cut health costs and increase productivity. It also found that employees who spent an average of 150 minutes a week on some kind of sporting activity were less likely to suffer with depression and so were less likely to be absent from work.

Oliver Gray, managing director of health consultancy EnergiseYou, says it has never been more important to care for employees’ health. “With the increasing number of redundancies in recent years, employees often find themselves doing the job of more than one person,” he says. “Employers have then realised the importance of offering employees services to help them stay healthy.

“There are two kinds of employer: old-style and new-style. The old-style employers have a more reactive approach, which means they only intervene to fix an employee when he or she is broken. The new-style ones are more proactive, putting services in place to help staff avoid getting injured or sick or depressed and therefore unable to work.”

Who is responsible?

But although the benefits of a healthy workforce are many, sports-related injuries can arise, which raises the question of who is responsible for managing these and what part, if any, employers should play. Gray says such risks can be minimised by supporting staff in their fitness efforts by, for example, educating them about safe ways to pursue a healthier lifestyle. He advises employers to help staff consider key areas, such as mind management and resilience, nutrition management, and overall work-life balance.

James Shillaker, director at GymFlex and Incorpore, says employers are responsible for providing support in the case of an injury only in certain circumstances. “Doing sports and keeping fit is still a very personal decision and I do not think employers should have in place specific benefits for injuries that take place out of the workplace,” he says.

However, he says employers should encourage staff to take part in regular physical activity, particularly gym membership. “The key word is regular,” he says. “As long as an employer can get its employees to exercise regularly, he can be sure that the possibility of them getting injured, sick or depressed will be much lower.”

Nick Elwell-Sutton, a partner at law firm Clyde and Co, agrees that take-up of, for example, bikes-for-work schemes and external gym membership is a personal choice for employees and does not involve any particular legal obligations for employers.

But he adds: “It is different if the employer offers an in-house gym. In that case, if the employer itself operates the gym, it certainly has a duty of care towards employees and should make sure they are adequately trained to use the equipment and that the equipment is maintained properly.”

Breach of duty of care

Elwell-Sutton says staff can hold their employer responsible for an injury resulting from a breach of duty of care in an on-site gym, but if, for example, they overload the weight on an exercise machine they are using, it is their responsibility, not the employer’s.

“In any other case, such as a bikes-for-work scheme or a marathon to raise money for the firm, I can hardly see how an employer can be held legally responsible for anything that can happen to an employee,” he says.

So, what constitutes reasonable support for employers to offer staff who suffer an activity-related injury? Relevant benefits offered by many UK employers includes health cash plans, physiotherapy and massage.

Lara Rendell, marketing manager at HealthShield, which offers services such as physiotherapy, acupuncture, acupressure, Indian massage and reflexology, says: “Most conscientious employers will take an active interest to ensure their team is covered in the event of injury. For example, if an employee sprained an ankle while playing rugby, he would be entitled to treatment straight away through a health cash plan that includes physiotherapy. Not only would this result in a shorter absence, but it would help to prevent a dip in productivity for the employer.”

BP Oil International offers a number of activities to help its staff lead a healthy life, including subsidised gym membership and a range of sports clubs. It also offers physiotherapists specialising in sports massage. Its policy on sports-related injuries is clear.

Angie Du Plessis, health, safety and environment adviser at BP, explains: “If something is work-related, we pay for it; otherwise, we don’t. Basically, if someone is sitting at a desk and has back problems, then we offer, and pay for, any physiotherapy needed. But if the injury is sport-related, staff need to pay for any support they need because it is extra-curricular activity.

“In fact, even if we offer gym membership or pay for a trainer for a marathon, at the end of the day it is completely a personal decision by the employee to take part.”

Top tips for promoting a healthy lifestyle to staff

Team-building events/charity runs

• Undertake adequate planning and ensure a health expert makes a risk assessment of the event.
• Ensure the risks involved are properly communicated to the staff taking part

Bikes-for-work schemes

• Include a policy on the maintenance and use of equipment in the terms of a scheme. For example, recommend employees wear safety equipment, such as a helmet.
• Communicate to any employees joining the scheme that the employer’s duty to protect their health and safety while at work does not extend to bike journeys to and from work.

Gym membership

• Make it clear to any employee taking up this benefit that their employer will not be responsible for any accident or injury that occurs when he or she is at the gym, except if it results from a breach of duty of care in an on-site gym.

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