Health – The Forgotten Word in OH&S


Article written by Ilija Ilcesin – Principal Consultant – PeopleSafe Australia

What springs to mind when you hear the words ‘OH&S’? Most people think ‘Workplace Safety’ and unfortunately either forget or under-rate the importance of ‘Workplace Health’.

The NSW OH&S Act 2000 states ‘an employer must ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all the employees of the employer’. Employers of choice don’t require a statutory obligation to motivate them to improve workplace health and safety; many do it because they feel at least a social, if not moral responsibility, to look after their staff. It also makes good business sense.

With much of the emphasis on OH&S in recent times focussing on addressing safety, unfortunately little effort has been placed on improving the health of staff. Many OH&S programs in the workplace are designed to identify and eliminate physical hazards that can cause injuries. To be truly effective and to meet statutory obligations, employers must be just as vigilant towards the identification and elimination (or control) of psychological, biological and other hazards that can affect the health and well-being of their workforce.

One employer who has decided to tackle health hazards head on is Abigroup Contractors Pty Ltd, a construction company with over 5000 employees Australia wide. Michael Hall, Learning and Development Manager for Abigroup, recently rolled out short (2.5hr) Wellness and Positive Workplace Behaviour workshops for all their NSW and National head office staff (with site based staff soon to follow). The Wellness workshop covered practical tips for improving well-being, with a particular focus on regular activity, nutrition and stress minimisation. The Positive Workplace Behaviour Workshop helped staff identify what discrimination and harassment is, the consequences of it, and what steps they can take if they are harassed or see it taking place in the workplace.

When reflecting upon the program Michael said “After the rollout of the training, it became clear that staff were responding in an overwhelmingly positive way, with many taking up membership in a nearby gym and making positive changes in areas such as eating habits, dealing with stress and their use of alcohol. It was great to see that the training was taken as a positive sign of the company caring about the welfare of our staff and valuing their contribution. I am sure that the Wellness training will ultimately lead to an increase in retention of staff and attraction of new talent.”

There are numerous benefits of having a healthy workforce, including:

  • Reduced absenteeism.
  • Greater productivity.
  • Higher morale, leading to decreased staff turnover (and lower recruitment costs).
  • An enriched corporate culture, where staff feel positive about health initiatives, leading to a better corporate brand.

So how can companies go about improving the health of their staff? Typical initiatives include:

  • Running brief workshops for staff on the principles of well-being and positive workplace behaviour.
  • Sponsoring health checks, flu-shots etc.
  • Allowing flexible work hours and encouraging staff to exercise during the day.
  • Approaching a local gym and negotiating a great deal for staff to use the facilities.
  • Adopting a zero tolerance to bullying, harassment and discrimination and ensuring you have simple, but effective policies in place to prevent and (if required) remedy inappropriate workplace behaviour.

For furher information on how to improve the health, safety and well-being of your workforce contact PeopleSafe Australia on (02) 9501 1516.