Linking Health and Safety at work

Organisations are recognising the relationship between safe workers and healthy workers.

Workplace health and safety is critical in every business but even with strict safety policies, procedures, safe systems and employee training in place, accidents and workplace illnesses still happen! Health and wellbeing initiatives can bridge the gap where safety programs end to make a difference in safety and overall
company culture.

Organisations that invest in wellbeing initiatives can expect to see a decrease in work-related accidents and
injuries. In fact, benefits are broader than purely financial gains from reducing absenteeism, accidents, injuries, and work-related health problems. Workplace wellbeing programs that address lifestyle risk factors and health risks of workers lead to more engaged employees, reduced turnover, reduced claims and higher productivity.

Health & Safety Management Timeline

Being ahead of the curve from a health and safety perspective is not just about robust health and safety culture. It’s about creating an environment that places employee wellbeing as a top priority.

The traditional approach to managing safety starts with the introduction of policy, roles and responsibilities,
and training. This is followed by risk assessments, implementation of control procedures and safe systems
of work.

Despite these efforts, accidents still occur. Over recent years a behavioural safety approach has proven to be
successful at reducing workplace accidents, yet rates still exceed acceptable levels. The next logical step is to address employee lifestyles from both a business and employee perspective.

What happens at home affects the workplace – and vice versa. Stress, anxiety, sleep loss, obesity, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, lack of concentration and memory changes can affect critical behaviours regarding safety in the workplace.

How Does Reduced Wellbeing Impact Safety?

When employees aren’t feeling their best physically and mentally, it can have a huge impact on their ability to perform at their best. The following conditions are likely to be strong contributors to major causes of accidents:
*Reduced cognitive function
*Increased fatigue
*Poor concentration and distraction
*Falling asleep at work
*Reduced memory and recall
*Reduced flexibility and mobility
*Increase in mental health conditions
*Changes in attitude and behaviour

How Healthy Employees Lead to a Safer Workforce?
All of these factors can contribute to workplace accidents as well as simple slips,
trips and falls, back and neck problems, and manufacturing and vehicular accidents
in the workplace.

Serious claims and workplace incidents remain costly to organisations in terms of lost productivity, compensation, and insurance premiums.
There are:
6 serious claims per million hours worked
$10,800 AUD$ median payout claim
5.2 WEEKS median lost time
45% of incidents are a result of physical and mental health issues

What steps is your workplace doing to try to prevent and hopefully reduce these numbers? It not only affects your workplace, but your employees lifestyle and the lifestyle of their families. It is not just about ticking boxes, but being proactive to cater the program(s) to match your goals, values and culture.

Which Lifestyle Factors Affect Workplace Safety?

Sleep quality is the most crucial lifestyle factor affecting safety in the workplace. The constant need for employees to be ‘on’ is having a big impact on their ability to switch off at the end of the day. Occasional sleep loss can be recovered but when employees move into the sleep deficit category, there can be a dramatic impact on work performance. Poor sleep quality can affect mood, impair concentration, decrease memory function,
increase fatigue and reduce reaction time. These negative impacts are all key ingredients in health and safety accidents, so bringing awareness to the importance of sleep is crucial in reducing employee safety risks.

The way employees manage stress in their personal and professional lives has a big impact on their focus, as well as how easy it is for them to sleep. While it’s hard to eliminate stress from the equation altogether, it’s possible to help employees manage and cope with it.

Physical Activity
Employees who don’t regularly exercise, or are predominantly sedentary during their work day, can suffer from musculoskeletal problems, work-related upper body disorders, obesity and stress.

Employees that are obese or overweight have a higher risk of slips and trips, are more likely to suffer from musculoskeletal problems, and manual handling problems, as well as being more prone to sleep apnoea, fatigue and the onset of chronic diseases like Type 2 Diabetes.

How Can You Mitigate the Impact of These Lifestyle Factors?
There are several ways that employers can limit the impact that lifestyle factors can have on safety
in the workplace:

1 Recognise the impact that an employee’s lifestyle can have, not only on themselves, but their co-workers.
2 Integrate a robust employee health and wellbeing strategy into your business and educate employees about the link between their own health and safety in the workplace.
3 As part of your risk assessment program, look for areas that might have higher health risks and introduce
initiatives to counter risk. For example, focus on sedentary roles in administration or transport, or work roles that have high levels of stress.
4 Incorporate health-related metrics in your health and safety reporting.
5 When reviewing current safety procedures or introducing new ones, consider any wellbeing aspects to the procedure. For example, introducing stand-and-stretch breaks into meetings longer than thirty minutes.
6 Ensure your employee wellbeing committee is collaborating with your workplace safety committee.

It’s important for HR leaders and employers to not only encourage and educate their employees on specific health and safety procedures, but also provide a workplace that fosters a culture of health and wellbeing.