Is your business engaging sufficiently with their staff to ensure that all occupational health issues are reported and dealt with at the earliest opportunity to ensure that lost working hours are kept to a minimum?
Industry Tips on Minimizing Sickness & Focusing on Morale:
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recently produced guidance to assist employers to improve the wellbeing and health of workers.
A key part of the NICE proposals is the importance of involving employees in decision making. In this article, we will refer to effective ways of engaging with staff which will improve the wellbeing and health of workers. Staff engagement improves morale and encourages the prompt reporting of any occupational health issues that develop within the workforce. When the necessary support is offered to employees to manage work related health issues from the outset, sickness is more likely to be reduced.
Almost 60% of occupational ill health involves musculoskeletal injury such as back injury from repetitive lifting or work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) from repetitive tasks. Work-related stress, which is often cited as a cause of mental ill health, is another major issue causing almost 30% of ill health. Occupational asthma and rhinitis, related mainly to exposure to flour and bakery dusts, causes around 8% of ill health followed by occupational dermatis (4%) and noise-induced hearing loss (1%).
Long term sickness absence is unfortunately on the rise and 2.6 million working days are lost due to work related physical and mental health conditions in the manufacturing industry alone. Health risks are gradually being considered as important as safety risks by employers, although some industries are still catching up in this regard.
NICE’s research found that staff engagement has been seen to improve staff mental and physical health and well being. NICE explained in their findings that their research has identified that the reason why staff engagement is so effective is because staff feel that their organisation values their opinions.
It is often the case that when musculoskeletal injuries occur, workers will not initially report them, unless there is a culture of reporting that has been encouraged and developed over time. This means that on occasion, valuable opportunities are lost to deal with relatively minor health issues that when ignored, become more significant and result in lost working hours.
Mental health issues, including stress, is also often not reported when it is initially experienced, although it is accepted that stress is a much more complicated issue. Also, there is still a lot of stigma around the issue of reporting stress and managing it in the workplace. Although more recently, a number of industries and the government have gone to considerable lengths to try and de-stigmatize stress by launching a number of effective high profile campaigns.
Employers often say that they didn’t appreciate that their employee was stressed until they got a sick note stating the position. Again, this is unfortunate as when a confidential counselling service is offered to employees along with the opportunity to engage confidentially with a line manager over this issue, workloads can be altered to avoid employees feeling that they are unable to cope which results in them then being off work.
The Importance of Health Surveillance
Health surveillance is a key cornerstone of employers’ legal and moral responsibilities in identifying whether there are any health issues that need to be addressed. If done in the right way, periodic health surveillance can be a good opportunity to offer a good staff engagement opportunities. Certain industries have legal requirements to provide regular health surveillance checks to ensure that staff aren’t suffering from occupational health issues. For example, in a loud working environment, when the noise level requires the use of ear defenders, like in a manufacturing setting. Also, if there is exposure to vibration, there is a legal requirement for regular checks to ensure that the work place isn’t resulting in any health related issues, such as HAV’s. Conscientious employers will often introduce health surveillance over and above their minimum legal requirements in an effort to identify any trends and minor issues which can then be easily resolved.
In addition to improved health and well being, NICE identified improvements in other areas when organisations provided staff engagement forums including improved job satisfaction, higher levels of commitment (which presumably will result in higher levels of staff retainment) and higher levels of productivity.
In our experience, staff engagement forums which take place on a regular basis are an essential, even is a relatively small company. They provide employees with the opportunity to raise any concerns that they have but equally, to discuss any positive thoughts which may prove to be valuable suggestions to the company.
NICE identified that it is key for employers to ensure that they provide regular feedback to employees regarding any issues that are raised otherwise the process will not be effective. We would suggest that organisations should give feedback in an answerable accountable way, at staff meetings and depending on the size of the organisation, also through newsletters, posts and emails.
NICE also suggested that in order to demonstrate the perceived importance of staff engagement forums, it is essential to ensure that the forums are included in organisational plans and published reports including the annual report. Forums should be used to get employees views on organisational decisions and on how working practices can be improved. The reason that this can improve productivity is because often employees have the most experience and information about the effectiveness of company policies and systems.
Safety Smart Comment:
• The extent to which a company can commit to staff engagement will depend on its size and the type of business. However, we would suggest that even a very small haulage company, with disparate mobile staff is able to provide some kind of employee engagement programme, even if it just involves a suggestion box and regular 10 minute one on one appraisals.
• In our experience, when employees gripes, which are often minor in nature, are left undealt with, they are perceived by employees to be much more significant and can lead to substantial resentment which effects morale, sickness levels and staff retainment rates. If there is a mechanism in place for ensuring that any concerns are at least listened to and feedback provided, then this will lead to greater business productivity and greater staff health and wellbeing.