Promotion of health at work reduces absences

Dr Christa Sedlatschek, Director of the European Agency für Safety and Health EU-OSHA, in an interview with Tiding on how protecting health at work is beneficial to enterprises and workers.

Tiding: Employers, companies, and even the government want healthy employees who contribute productively to the company‘s success, instead of receiving sick pay. Companies are therefore increasingly investing resources in healthcare for all of their employees. Could you give us some examples of best practice?
Dr. Christa Sedlatschek: The promotion of health at work is intended to improve the wellbeing of people in the workplace. In order to do this, for example, workplace organisation and the working environment may have to be adapted, but healthcare offerings must also be provided and personal development promoted. Examples of organisational measures are the introduction of flexible working hours and telecommuting. Or workers are given the opportunity to be involved in improving their working organisation and environment, and lifelong learning is made possible. Individual measures include sports classes and events, healthy nutrition, and programmes to promote smoke-free environments.

Is it mainly large companies who are committed to protecting the health of their employees, or do small and medium- sized companies also share this concern about their employees?
Of course we see that large companies find it much easier to establish occupational health management and to offer integrated programmes. Health consciousness is therefore also much stronger than in small and mediumsized companies. Nevertheless, in our experience, more and more mediumsized companies also recognise how important it is to keep qualified workers healthy and in the company for as long as possible. Therefore, there are an increasing number of companies offering programmes that promote health, often with external support. Small and very small companies still have a lot of catching up to do and in order for them to do so, what is mainly required are external support structures such as accident and health care insurance providers, city, regional, state and national initiatives.

How can EU-OSHA support these small companies in particular in looking after the health of their employees and their ability to work?
We often come across the idea that this would be expensive and associated with lots of additional work. Many companies expect that in order to deal with safety and health protection, expert knowledge will be required that is not available within small companies. OiRA, the online interactive risk assessment tool, provides help in this area. It simplifies the assessment of possible sources of risk in the workplace. Such user-friendly, free online tools help small companies to progress step-by-step. Employers are assisted in selecting suitable measures and in monitoring and recording safety and health problems. EU-OSHA provides the platform, as well as the software, the general tools, and a helpdesk and brings together the OiRA community. The tools are then adapted by the OiRA partners at the national level to suit their sectors and states.

Is company healthcare worthwhile for companies or does it just cost them money?
We have studied the economic benefit of companies promoting health and the result is clear: if companies promote their workers’ health, it is also of economic benefit to them. Because every euro invested in company health promotion results in a yield of between EUR 2.00 and EUR 4.80 in reduced absences. Company health promotion measures not only reduce absences, they also increase worker motivation and productivity. Promoting a healthy lifestyle is beneficial to everyone, it improves quality of life for individuals and results in advantages for the company and indirectly also for society as a whole. With an aging population, measures for company health promotion are very important not only to keep people fit for longer, but also to improve their ability to work and be active. Without healthy, motivated workers, increasing the age of up to which people work will remain elusive.

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