Occupational Health – Workplace Health Management
There are four key components of workplace health management:
- Occupational health and safety
Health promotion in the workplace
Social and lifestyle determinants of health
Environmental Health Management
In the past, a policy was often guided solely by compliance with legislation. In the new approach to managing health in the workplace, policy development is driven by both legislative requirements and health objectives set voluntarily by the working community in each sector. To be effective, occupational health management must be based on knowledge, experience and accumulated practice in three disciplines: occupational health, workplace health promotion, and environmental health. It is important to see the WHM as a process not only for continuous improvement and improvement of health within the company but also as a framework for participation among the various community agencies. It provides a platform for cooperation between local authorities and business leaders in community development through the improvement of public and environmental health.
The healthy workplace – a cornerstone of the Community Action Plan.
The Luxembourg Declaration of the European Union Network for the Promotion of Health at Work defined the WHP as the combined effort of employers, employees, and society to improve the health and well-being of people at work.
This can be achieved through a combination of:
Improving work organization and the working environment
Promote the active participation of employees in health activities
Encourage personal development
Health promotion in the workplace is considered in the Luxembourg Declaration of the EU network as a modern business strategy aimed at preventing ill-health at work and improving the health promotion potential and well-being of the workforce. Documented benefits for workplace programmes include reduced absenteeism, reduced cardiovascular risk, reduced health care claims, reduced staff turnover, decreased musculoskeletal injuries, increased productivity, increased organizational efficiency and the potential for a return on investment.
However, many of these improvements require the sustained involvement of employees, employers, and society in the activities necessary to make a difference. This is achieved through empowering employees, enabling them to make decisions about their own health. Occupational Health Advisors (OHA) are well placed to conduct needs assessments of health promotion initiatives with the working populations they serve, to prioritize these initiatives along with other occupational health and safety initiatives that may be underway, and to coordinate activities at the company level to ensure that planned initiatives are carried out. In the past, occupational health services have been involved in assessing fitness for work and assessing levels of disability for insurance purposes for many years.
The concept of maintaining work capacity in the otherwise healthy working population has been developed by some innovative occupational health services. In some cases, these efforts have been developed in response to the growing challenge caused by the aging workforce and the rising cost of social security. OHAs have often been at the forefront of these developments.
The all occupational health services approach needs to be further developed to include efforts to maintain work capacity and prevent preventable nonoccupational conditions in the workplace through workplace interventions. This will require some occupational health services to become more actively involved in promoting health in the workplace, without reducing the attention paid to the prevention of occupational accidents and illnesses. OHAs, with their close contact with employees, sometimes over many years, are in a good position to plan, deliver and evaluate health promotion and the maintenance of work capacity interventions in the workplace.
Occupational health promotion has gained importance in the last decade as employers and employees recognize the respective benefits. Workers spend half their workday without sleep, providing an ideal opportunity for employees to share and receive a variety of health messages and for employers to create healthy work environments. The scope of health promotion depends on the needs of each group.
Some of the most common health promotion activities are activities to reduce smoking, healthy nutrition or exercise programs, prevention and reduction of drug and alcohol abuse.
However, health promotion can also address other social, cultural, and environmental determinants of health, if people within the company feel that these factors are important for improving their health, well-being, and quality of life. In this case, factors such as improved work organization, motivation, reduction of stress and burnout, the introduction of flexible work schedules, personal development plans and improved career prospects can also contribute to the overall health and well-being of the work community.
In addition to occupational health and workplace health promotion, there is another important aspect of workplace health management. It relates to the impact that each company can have on the surrounding environment, and through pollutants or products or services supplied to third parties, its impact on distant environments. Let us remember the extent to which the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl accident affected entire neighbouring countries.
Although the impact of companies on environmental health is controlled by legislation different from that which applies to occupational health and safety, there is a strong relationship between the protection of the working environment, the improvement of work organisation and work culture within the company, and its approach to environmental health management.
Many leading companies already combine occupational health and safety with environmental health management to make optimal use of the human resources available within the company and avoid duplication of efforts. Occupational health nurses can contribute to environmental health management, especially in companies that do not employ environmental health specialists.