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Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
June 29, 2008

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Men’s health

It’s well known that men are more reluctant to go to the doctor and sort out health problems than women and, as a result, their health suffers. What is required, argues Peter Baker, is a gender-specific approach to tackling men’s health, which can be achieved by NHS providers and employers working together to deliver health improvement services in the workplace.

Men of working age visit their doctor less often than women, and it is the widespread experience of GPs that men also present later in the course of an illness than women. Yet, while men delay going to the doctor, they are surprisingly willing to take advantage of health services and campaigns in the workplace — perhaps the workplace is a familiar and comfortable territory for them, unlike the GP surgery, and participation is much easier, requiring less effort and less time away from the desk, or bench.

The ‘gender equality duty’, under the Equality Act 2006, places a legal obligation on all public bodies to ensure that services promote equality of opportunity for both sexes. This means that NHS providers must find ways of delivering services to men more effectively than in the past, and puts the role of health at work in a new light.

Improving health through action taken in the workplace is different from most established occupational health practice, in which ‘health at work’ tends to mean the management of sickness, or the elimination of risks to safety. In line with the central objectives of current national health policy, with its focus on wider choice and greater flexibility in the delivery of primary care services, a more holistic approach to improving the wellness of the workforce is what’s needed.

Up close and personal

A closer look at male health puts the situation into perspective. On average, men die four years earlier than women, and 16 per cent of men and 6 per cent of women die during working age.1 This reflects the fact that men develop a range of serious diseases earlier than women — 10-15 years earlier in the case of coronary heart disease, for example.2 Men typically take more risks with their health — they drink more heavily than women, are more likely to smoke, and less likely to protect their skin from the sun. As already noted, they are also considerably more reluctant to seek advice or help from a health professional.

Overall, there are more men than women in paid employment (15.9 million men compared with 13.5 million women), and men are twice as likely to work full time (14.1 million men, 7.8 million women).3 Men also work much more overtime (29.9 per cent of men work more than 45 hours a week, compared with 9.7 per cent of women),3 and tend to work to a greater age than women. Men are more likely to be members of ‘at risk’ groups and less likely to be singled out for tailored care in the workplace.

It’s obvious that this imbalance needs to be addressed, and not just through preventing accidents and injuries, which has been the traditional scope of the safety and health practitioner (although this, too, is a vital element). Men’s awareness of these issues needs to be increased, and their employers and trades unions encouraged to develop a ‘gender-sensitive’ approach to access to health care in the workplace. By following examples set by organisations that have recorded positive benefits, much can be done to bolster the traditional approach.

Good for business

While the health service will be driven by the need to improve public health, businesses will be driven by recent research that demonstrates that a healthy workforce is good for business. As part of Dame Carol Black’s recent review,1 Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) was commissioned to consider the wider business case and, specifically, the economic case for employers to invest in wellness programmes for their staff. According to the company’s press release:4 “The evidence suggests that wellness programmes have a positive impact in areas such as staff turnover and productivity, and that programme costs quickly translate to financial benefits through cost savings, or additional revenue generation. For many employers the costs of ill health are likely to increase if they do nothing, given the ageing population and increase in chronic disease.”

This argument was given considerable additional backing following the publication of research from the LSE,5 showing the impact of health and well-being policies at Royal Mail Group. It tracked specific effects of the policies within one of its business units to understand the ‘before’ and ‘after’ effects of what it describes as ‘absence policies’ on a range of key performance indicators. By drawing comparisons between absence data, profitability, cost and productivity, the report concluded that “€

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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