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June 11, 2015

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Occupational health abroad: Ghana

ghana-26961_640Gill Monk of All Health Matters Limited often travels the world with her clients and shares with us her experience with an oil company in Ghana. Gill is a guest blogger this month and explains a little about the subject of Occupational Health.

If your computer breaks down, you call in the computer guys. If your company van fails to start, you call in a mechanic. These ‘assets’ are fundamental to the running of your business. But what do you do if a member of staff is off sick? Accept a medical certificate and ask the rest of the team to work harder to cover the empty chair?

Your staff are the greatest asset you have got – without them there is little point in having the best product in the world because there is no one to make it, sell it, pack it, distribute it and get paid for it. Healthy staff, are self-financing. Sick staff, are a costly business.

‘Occupational Health’ is all about looking after the health and well being of your staff and therefore the health of your business, and here at All Health Matters, we are passionate about the health of your business.

You are possibly aware of the reactive services available – sickness absence management, referrals to an Occupational Health physician etc. These services are there to help you manage a sick employee, to help them return to the workplace and carry out meaningful duties. Are you aware, however, that for relatively small cost you can introduce proactive measures to help prevent your staff getting sick and going absent? Seasonal flu vaccinations, pre-placement medicals, DSE assessments, drug & alcohol testing, health promotion programmes, health surveillance activities are just some of the initiatives we can offer. Health surveillance is especially important if your staff are exposed to noise or to respiratory sensitizers or skin irritants for instance. Regular surveillance programmes have the effect of not only helping your staff to keep well and to feel valued but also serve to protect your company from future insurance claims.

When I visited Ghana, I was contracted to do some work for an oil company. Being a UK company operating overseas in a hazardous industry, they adopt all of the UK standards towards health and safety and put great emphasis on the fitness of their staff. The conditions over there are of course quite different to the UK, but the drive to keep people well and at work is exactly the same.

As OH practitioners, we work closely with Health & Safety and HR professionals, providing the medical advice which supports these two important areas of people and safety management.

Talking of safety, before setting off for Ghana I was given a very comprehensive what-not-to-do and etiquette handbook which included such advice as “Don’t give or receive gifts with your left hand”, “Don’t shake hands with your left hand”, “Don’t point or wave with your left hand”. I am really glad my husband didn’t come with me because he is left handed and would probably have been arrested.

A piece of safety advice was to “only get in a company car and only after the driver has shown you his official company ID”. On my arrival in Accra airport at 9pm on a tropical (98°) Sunday night, I was met by a driver who showed me his ID and so I gladly went with him. He took me across a pot-holed, dusty, makeshift car park with cars everywhere and no apparent traffic control, to what I can only describe as a campervan. He slid open the side door and shoved my case and me inside, sliding the door shut behind me and then wandered away! You can no doubt guess how I felt when a man who had been crouched down in the drivers seat started the engine and drove away with me. For the next 10 minutes I was quite convinced that I was being kidnapped and when we slowed to let some traffic through I got ready to jump and shouted over the noise of the engine about my concern that my guide was not with me, but the driver shouted ‘Nana is following in a car’ and for some reason I was comforted by that.

True enough, when we arrived at my hotel, there was ‘Nana’ waiting to ensure I was checked in before leaving me in my four-star hotel. I naturally told my hosts about this the next day at the office, but I made a big joke of it and got them all laughing so they didn’t suspect I was pretty scared at the time. (I suspect though that the ‘top man’ took the message on board and will ensure it doesn’t happen again to anyone else).

Another safety fear in Ghana is Malaria which is endemic in Africa and my host company are insistent that all staff travelling or living there undergo intense training in malaria prevention, symptoms, treatment etc. They provide everyone with mosquito repellent and a malaria testing kit with clear instructions on its use and until you have completed the training they won’t allow you to travel. Every office and hotel they use is air conditioned and the turn-down service includes a room spray. I have to confess to being very impressed by their diligence and foresight and felt comforted by it. Wherever I go in the world, the mosquito population normally see me coming and are lined up at the airport waiting to greet me with their little proboscises twitching with excitement. I normally come back more bitten than tanned, so I was overjoyed that African mossies found me tasteless and uninteresting (could be due to the amount of dirt and my bicycle clips of course).

In business, I often meet managers or business owners who, when learning what my company does, view me with a degree of suspicion. They see us as being “yet another nose trying to get into their trough”, but nothing could be further from the truth. As my client the oil company has proved, those with a more realistic view of the world, with perception and wisdom, see OH for what it truly is – a tool to maintain a vital resource and with which to repair an asset which is broken.

So if you care about the people you employ and whether driven by legislation or desire you want some OH advice – call me Gill Monk on 07968 233890, email [email protected] or log on to All Health Matters.

Gill Monk of All Health Matters Limited often travels the world with her clients and shares with us her experience with an oil company in Ghana.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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