Making the case for occupational health
A new report has examined the impact of occupational health programmes around the world and how they can benefit both employers and employees alike.
The report by the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), the International SOS Foundation and KU Leuven University also claims occupational health programmes can play a major part in protecting and revitalizing the international economy. According to the report, fatal and non-fatal work-related injuries cost the global economy €2,680 billion a year, which is equivalent to the entire gross domestic product (GDP) of the United Kingdom. And although the report looks at the issue of occupational health from a global perspective, it highlights various regional figures, which show there were around 14,159 fatal work-related accidents in 2014 and 223,253 deaths from work-related diseases in 2015.
The report highlights the many benefits of occupational health programmes, including improved employee health, along with reductions in presenteeism and healthcare cases. It also argues there is a strong moral case for investing in occupational health. “Apart from not harming workers and the potential health improvements, occupational health programmes have the potential to reduce unfair inequality and support equal access to healthcare, to diminish the health gap between high-income and low-income countries, and to protect vulnerable groups,” the report states.
It also claims companies investing in occupational health can attract more talented workers and enjoy lower recruitment and HR management costs.
Disclosure and accountability
The study points to how power working conditions, disclosure and accountability can affect whether consumers will buy products from a particular company. “The effects of occupational diseases and poor working conditions of employees on brand image and goodwill can be detrimental and hugely costly to counter,” it states.
“However, effects of corporate image are not restricted to global firms,” it ntoes. “Often, small enterprises are highly embedded in the local social environment, and poor working conditions can have a very direct effect on sales, e.g. because customers live in the same village.”
The report also highlights the return-on-investment that occupational health programmes can provide, and quotes one study that calculated that absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every US dollar spent on workplace disease prevention and health promotion programmes. While another study
on workplace wellness programmes cited in the report calculated that medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar
“The workplace health agenda can broaden its scope beyond traditional occupational medicine, and include workplace wellness, sustainability, and corporate social responsibility,” the report adds.
“Leading industries have already seized this opportunity by taking occupational health beyond minimum national legal requirements, and offering guidance to others to expand the value of occupational health to those dimensions in the future.”
The report also includes several case studies, including on the German butchery sector, which saw 1,000 fewer accidents per year and costs fall by €40 million in six years after a series of occupational safety schemes were introduced. It quotes the example of Johnson & Johnson’s ‘Live for Life’ programme, which offers pedometers, Weight Watchers membership and health coaching to staff. And according to estimates, the programme helped save the company $565 per employee in 2009 with a return-on-investment of between $1.88 and $3.92 for every dollar spent by the company.
The report concludes by saying current studies sketch a “mostly bright picture” of the benefits of investing in occupational health. “However, many of the available studies and reviews
also highlight a need for more high-quality research, both on the effectiveness of interventions on health outcomes, as well as on the financial and economic impact of these programmes.
“To strengthen results, more research with a thorough economic component is needed, preferably accounting for the local legal and health-economic context. While the evidence review focused on financial reasons to invest, there are many intangible reasons to invest in occupational health, such as an improved reputation and compliance with the law,” it adds.
The Society of Occupational Medicine’s Chief Executive, Nick Pahl, says: “Work related health issues are far reaching, through the impact on organisations, employees and their families and on the wider community and ultimately the economy. Effects are across industries and ailments, from the impacts of a bad flu season, to accidents and injuries. Many of these issues are preventable or at least can be reduced, hence the enormous potential of occupational health programmes. This report provides comprehensive evidence of significant positive health related impact and return on investment of successful Occupational Health interventions.”
Development and wellbeing
One of the co-authors of the report, Professor Lode Godderis, says: “From the implementation of a new manufacturing system in a medical centre to reduce the number of needle stick injuries, resulting in cost savings of $62,000 a year, to a workers’ health promotion programme involving topics such as nutrition and lifestyle management. This study demonstrates that the potential of Occupational Health can be fulfilled in numerous areas of the field.”
Commenting on the report, the Chelsea Psychology Clinic’s Consultant Psychologist and Clinic Director, Dr Elena Touroni, says: “Occupational health programmes help employees feel taken care of by their employers. The workplace is full of human interactions that can leave an employee feeling either as though their employer is invested in their development and wellbeing or as if their needs don’t matter as long as the function they fulfil for the workplace is met. Having a robust occupational health programme that is well tailored to employee needs can be all the difference between those two experiences.”
“Knowing that your employer takes your wellbeing seriously can be relationally enriching and facilitate motivation to stay in a working environment far longer and work far harder. In an indirect way occupational health programmes can have a huge impact on the functioning of the organisation and the individual’s commitment to perform in the work they do. In a paradoxical way offering well-formulated occupational health programmes is likely to reduce both the need for healthcare and sickness absence. It really is a win-win for organisational life.” Dr Touroni concluded.
To read the full report, click here.
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