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Keeping workers healthy, happy and productive

Supplier: Blackwoods By: Alan Johnson, TecTorque
13 August, 2013

The success of a recent free health check-up program will see the progressive program rolled out right across Blackwoods' branches in Victoria.

An innovative program designed to raise the importance of health and well-being for the Victorian workforce has been adopted by Blackwoods at its Scoresby branch, with plans to expand the program out to all Blackwoods Victorian branches.

The aim of the WorkHealth program, which Worksafe launched in 2010, is to encourage employers to sign up for WorkHealth check programs, and encourage employees to participate in the free WorkHealth checks when they are offered at their workplace.

Regina McMeeken, HSE Manager with Wesfarmers Industrial & Safety, says the program has been very popular with employees at the Scoresby branch and distribution centre.

"The initial program, which was held in November last year, has been very well received, and from a health and wellbeing perspective it gives us the opportunity to offer something extra for our workforce," she said.

"Prior to the WorkHealth check-up, there had been a big media campaign in Victoria, so in the lead up to it, many people in the organisation were aware and some even asking for it."

"In November, we had over 60 per cent of our people at Scoresby take part, and I have now received the go ahead for all our branches in Victoria, which will be rolled out as soon as possible," she said.

McMeeken explained that the program isn't compulsory for workers to attend. "It's offered to everybody, and is purely voluntary, with the results only shared with the participant."

"They have their blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and waist measurement checked, plus they are given information and tips on their diet and nutrition, and exercise.

"Feedback from employees has been very positive, with most people saying they are pleased to hear they are OK, or just need to improve a little bit here or there. Though some could be told it might be a good time to see their GP and get some medical follow up," McMeeken said.

She said for Blackwoods, the program means a little bit more engagement and support of employees. "And for our employees, it gives them the opportunity to have a quick health check, especially for those who don't have easy access to a GP for health and well-being.

"Unfortunately, many people only go to their GP when they are sick," she said.

For other Victorian companies thinking of introducing the WorkHealth program, McMeeken says it is very straight forward and is based on a company's payroll figure and its number of employees.

"It's just about applying for funding for a provider from Worksafe. Providing you meet their criteria, it's just a matter of them providing approvals," she said.

"And for employers who pick up over 50 per cent of their employees into the program there are grants available, up to $5000, which we will use for wellness programs for the employees," McMeeken said.

Results

As a state-wide program, the WorkHealth program has the potential to positively impact on the lives of over 2.6 million working Victorians.

According to WorkSafe Victoria, the program aims to deliver far reaching benefits to workers, employers, and the community at large, by reducing the risk and incidence of chronic disease across the state's working population and the impact of illness and injury on working families.

The latest results from the WorkHealth checks have revealed that blue collar workers are more likely to have high blood pressure, drink at risky levels, and be at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease than their white collar counterparts.

WorkHealth Director, Pam Anders, said nearly 600,000 Victorian workers - or one in five - have undergone a voluntary WorkHealth check offered by WorkSafe to date.

Anders said that latest findings from a Monash University report on 500,000 WorkHealth checks provided employers with an unprecedented insight into the major health concerns facing their employees and, in turn, their business.

The report, released late last year, showed that blue collar workers, when compared to white collar workers, were: more than twice as likely to smoke (29 per cent vs 13 per cent); more likely to drink alcohol at risky levels (49 per cent vs 37 per cent); more likely to have high blood pressure (30 per cent vs 24 per cent); more likely to have a high risk of type 2 diabetes (31 per cent vs 21 per cent); and more than twice as likely to have a high risk of heart disease (7 per cent vs 3 per cent).

Anders said the findings for industries such as manufacturing, construction and mining should raise alarm bells for employees and employers alike.

"WorkHealth checks have shown that unhealthy lifestyle behaviours such as alcohol consumption and smoking, and alarming conditions such as high blood pressure require an easily accessible program for workers in those industries.

"Business success is dependent on having a pool of motivated, healthy, safe and engaged people to deliver strong results, without whom the economy would grind to a halt.

"Given the significant challenges of labour and skill shortages, an ageing workforce and climbing rates of chronic disease, blue collar workplaces need to address the added challenge of poor worker health to future-proof their industries.

"The good news is there's a great deal that employers can do to promote healthy choices and behaviours in their workplaces."

Anders said that the WorkHealth program is not only about supporting worker health, but also about promoting productive and thriving businesses.

"A healthy workforce means a safer and more productive workforce, with lower absenteeism, higher morale, better injury recovery outcomes, and the ability to attract and retain motivated, committed staff to deliver strong results for your business.

"Blue collar workplaces, where the work is often more physical, can particularly benefit from well-being initiatives, such as group stretching exercises to prevent injury and boost morale."

Anders said the findings of the WorkHealth program would help inform and develop chronic disease prevention strategies in Victoria, Australia and internationally.

"The WorkHealth findings give Victorian employers access to the major health concerns in their industry.

"We know, for example, that several lifestyle risk factors are more common in some industries than others, such as risky alcohol consumption in mining and construction and smoking in transport.

"By developing specific wellness programs rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, employers will see a much stronger return on investment and ultimately reduce the impact of chronic disease on their business and the wider economy," Anders said.

Wayne Hunter, HSE Advisor with Bridgestone Australia, said he decided to initiate the free WorkHealth checks for the company's 90 Victorian staff to help raise awareness among the team of their general wellbeing.

"And the results have been just what we were hoping for. Awareness of general health has definitely increased across the organisation. In particular, a number of people have told me they were surprised about their results in the areas of nutrition and physical activity areas," said Hunter.

"This aligns with the habits we could already see among the workforce. There are those that eat well but work in sedentary jobs, and those that work in physical jobs but probably eat a bit too much junk food."

"A survey after the initiative revealed some promising findings, with 90 per cent of staff saying the information they received was of great benefit, and 55 per cent planning to visit their GP to discuss their results," he said.

Click here for more information on the WorkHealth program.