Boost worker health in five easy steps

If you’re a typical small employer with limited resources you might wonder how you can effectively encourage your workers to get healthier.

A healthy workplace is not only good for your workers, it can also be good for your business.

Aside from boosting morale, business benefits could include more productivity, less sick leave and fewer injuries and related issues. It makes sense that healthy workers are fitter, more aware, alert and resilient against illness. Healthy workers are also less likely to sustain manual handling injuries and strains, and are more likely to recover faster from injuries and strains.

While big businesses may have plenty of resources to devote to worker health and wellbeing, there are plenty of simple, inexpensive this small businesses can do to make a difference.

Even small changes can have a huge impact. Here are five ideas:

  1. Look at workers’ eating habits, especially if lunchtime fare is fast food high in saturated fats such as burger and fries. Encourage staff to bring their own meals, provide fruit bowls, order healthier food when catering, change the contents of vending machines and promote the use of water bottles.
  2. Encouraging your workers to be more physically active – especially if jobs involve little movement for long periods of time – can have a significant impact on health. Offer flexible working hours to allow exercise time, organise discounts at local fitness clubs, encourage staff to exercise more on their morning commute, hold meetings outside and promote events like Walk to Work and Ride to Work days. Lead by example!
  3. Help sedentary workers incorporate activity into their daily routines. Provide exercise routine guides, consider hiring a personal trainer to visit the workplace, position printers further away from desks to promote walking and encourage car-bound staff to take regular stop and stretch breaks.
  4. Workplace pressure combined with external factors can affect social and emotional wellbeing. Be flexible with working arrangements, set up a break room for personal calls and quiet time, and organise advisory posters from mental wellbeing organisations such as beyondblue.
  5. Helping to assist workers quit smoking has major benefits; not just in terms of increased productivity due to less smoking breaks but making them healthier too. Non-smokers are more likely to exercise and are less vulnerable to potentially terminal diseases. Provide quit-smoking information and allow workers time to consult with GPs.

Visit the Get Healthy at Work website for more great ideas on how you can help your workers get healthier and your business better, or give us a call on 13 10 50.

Transport companies make long haul health commitment

There’s a new place to get healthy in 2015, and it’s not the gym or the doctor. In fact, it’s a place where most Australians already spend about a third of their life – work.

More than 850 workplaces across NSW have already made a pledge to support healthier lifestyles by embracing a new free workplace health service called Get Healthy at Work.

Get Healthy at Work is a $12 million NSW Government initiative that makes it easy for businesses to support workers in making healthier food choices, becoming more physically active and maintaining a healthy body weight. Participating workplaces can also use the service to support the resolutions of workers who want to quit smoking or reduce their alcohol intake.

In response to data that shows many transport workers are at high risk of developing chronic disease, particularly Type 2 diabetes and heart disease*, two transport companies have been among the first to implement their Get Healthy at Work programs.

In Sydney, TNT Australia made a number of changes at its Enfield worksite to support workers in making healthier food choices and exercising more. These included overhauling its canteen menu boards to offer healthier options, ‘traffic light’ stickers in each truck to remind drivers of healthy eating choices and new partnerships with local associations, gyms and health insurers to offer better deals for employees.

“Feedback from staff indicates they are healthier, they tend to be happier and more are making informed food and lifestyle choices,” said TNT General Manager – Workplace Risk, Chris Zichy-Woinarski.

Employee engagement was another benefit the business attributed to the enhanced focus on health.

“The minute you start to take a sincere interest in your people, in turn they take a more sincere interest and investment in the company – and that’s good for business,” Mr Zichy-Woinarski said.

In Tamworth, Carey’s Freight Lines has launched both weight loss and fitness challenges as part of a workplace health program developed with support from a Get Healthy at Work workplace health provider.

For Marco Rindo, Work, Health, Safety and Compliance Manager, the benefits for both the workers and the business are obvious.

“Healthy workers are happier in their work, less likely to be home sick and also more productive when they are at work. For drivers in particular, a healthy, fitter worker is more alert and less likely to become fatigued and put at risk themselves or others on the road,” he said.

“Our drivers have really taken the idea and run with it, with our own ‘Biggest Loser’ competition as well as a ‘Fitness Fanatic’ challenge for the guys that don’t have so much weight to lose. It’s great to see everyone encouraging each other along the way.”

Executive Director of WorkCover’s Work Health and Safety Division, Peter Dunphy, said it was fantastic to see workers in one of the most high-risk industries for chronic disease embracing the opportunity to get healthy at work.

“The working environment has an undeniable impact on the health of an individual, particularly when you consider how much time the average Australian spends at work throughout their life,” he said.

“For truck drivers, the lifestyle of long hauls, shift work and fast food means obesity, diabetes and heart disease can often be major health issues.

“Simply planning ahead for better food, or making healthier choices such as drinking water instead of soft drink can have a huge impact on weight and general wellbeing.”

Joining those in the transport industry, workers in the manufacturing, construction and agriculture industries have also been shown to be at high risk for chronic disease.

In addition to the individual health benefits, businesses that value workplace health have been shown to benefit through improved worker morale, productivity, staff attraction and retention, and corporate image. In the longer term, reductions in absenteeism as well as workplace injuries and claims could also be achieved.

About Get Healthy at Work
Developed by WorkCover NSW in partnership with NSW Health, Get Healthy at Work gives businesses access to an accredited workplace health provider who can help set some health goals, supported by a simple action plan tailored to the needs of the business and its workers. Alternatively, businesses can choose to develop their action plan independently using Get Healthy at Work’s interactive training tutorials and easy-to-use resources, tools and templates to guide them every step of the way.

As part of the service, workers at participating businesses are offered a free and confidential 15-minute health check to assess their risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. At-risk individuals are then provided with advice and referrals to set them on the path to better health. The health check can be completed online or with an onsite health practitioner during work hours.

Visit the website to learn more about the service and register to participate or call WorkCover NSW on 13 10 50.

*Analysis by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 2010 using results from the National Health Survey, combined with industry data sourced from occupational health and safety bodies across Australia.

Driving the wellness message home

When it comes to making a dent in improving the health of Australian ‘truckies’, Di Carroll is something of a prime mover.

The determined crusader and her independent Tarcutta-based Trans-Help Foundation are making significant inroads into the road freight transport industry’s ‘wellness’ dilemma.
Operating a 24/7 national 1300 support line and four mobile preventative health check units, Di and her 40 volunteers have helped more than 10,000 transport families since 2005.

“My first husband Gary was killed in the industry, crushed by a falling load of logs, and my dad was a truck driver, as are my brother and nephews, so we’ve been around trucks all our lives,” said the mum of six and grandmother of four.

“The foundation brings a lot of personal experience and that’s what the guys relate to; we can go out there and talk the talk.”

Recognising workers’ reluctance to use company-run counselling services – due to a fear of being benched after flagging health or personal issues – the national charity rolled out its first Mobile Health and Support Units in 2008. The results were staggering; out of 200 participants, more than 75 per cent had medical issues.

“We found that drivers didn’t have access to doctors and if they were able to get a GP appointment, they were usually at the other end of the country,” she said.

“Furthermore, many drivers weren’t taking prescribed medication, either because they couldn’t get to a GP to get a new script or visit a pharmacy.”

A typical example was a 29-year-old driver and father of two who thought he was fine but was actually overweight with high blood pressure and cholesterol and sleep apnoea.

“After we put the wind up him with health check results, he took the next day off work and went to the doctor for a check-up,” she said.

“His doctor told him to thank us as we’d probably helped save his life.”

Equally concerning were the underlying health issues and other factors contributing to fatalities and incidents that Trans-Help volunteers discovered during counselling of widows or drivers.

“Fatigue is everywhere but it masks the underlying issues; for example, we are campaigning hard against energy drinks as we believe these are a major killer in the transport industry,” she said.

Di said Trans-Help was concerned about the promotion of energy drinks as a solution for fatigue, particularly as some drivers consumed too many – often along with No-Doz and Berocca – a potential recipe for disaster.

Equally concerning were the results of transport company visits where volunteers conducted overall health assessments of staff. One had found three out of five mechanics were on anti-depressants to help them cope with work-related stress.

“And these are the guys who repair and maintain the trucks that go out on the roads,” she said.

“I honestly think the biggest problem in the industry is a lack of education, so the more drivers and companies we can reach out to, the better.

“Everyone needs to understand that people’s lives and health are much more important than time slots, allocations and deadlines.”

Find out more at transhelpfoundation.com.au including the charity’s partnership with GP2U, providing truckies with instant access to doctors via video conference using computer, tablet or mobile phone.

The Get Healthy at Work initiative also provides free tools, templates and resources – and online health checks – to address workplace health issues.

To contact WorkCover NSW, call 13 10 50 or visit our website.

photograph of tape measure on blue background

Overweight workers tip scales on ‘sickies’

A top heavy workforce can be a real financial drain on a business.

According to a recent German study, overweight workers are much more likely to take sick days than their slimmer and presumably healthier workmates.

The study of almost 8000 overweight workers found obese workers took nearly 90 per cent more sick days than workers considered to be of ‘normal weight’.

Researchers at the Hamburg Centre for Health Economics concluded this excessive ‘sickie’ rate had a formidable contribution to industry lost-productivity costs. Workers classed as overweight, meanwhile — not obese — were found to take about 31 per cent more sick days than their slimmer colleagues.

The research team concluded that excess weight was a significant contributing factor to absenteeism, disability, and premature mortality. Sick leave duration of obese workers was also found to be more prolonged than non-obese workers.

While there was no shortage of workplace health programs that had been shown to have varying levels of success, evidence pointing to financial returns was inconclusive, researchers said.

Australian research, however, suggests successful health programs could see businesses experience up to three times more productivity, less sick leave and injuries, as well as higher morale. Research also reveals healthy workers are fitter, more aware, alert and resilient against illness, and less likely to sustain manual handling injuries and strains.

Healthy weight is just one of six health focus areas of the new Get Healthy at Work service being rolled out by WorkCover NSW in partnership with NSW Health.

Businesses that register will receive access to all the tools, resources and support needed to develop a simple workplace health program, along with free and confidential health checks to help workers understand their risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.