All businesses are likely to face a range of workplace health and welfare issues at one time or another. This narrative will set out the importance of nipping them in the bud. And it explains how to implement systems that can help you do so.
First: it is important to bear in mind always that stress from excessive pressure, worry about work or about personal or family problems can affect your psychological, social and physical well-being as well those of your staffs.
So also can back pain and strain injury emanating from manually lifting heavy loads or doing other kinds of hard work, including long hours of computer work. They can result in serious physical or mental injury or longer-term disability.
Therefore, it is important to manage health and welfare issues in your workplace well. This will involve taking definite steps to promote the well-being of both yourself and your employees, as well as prevent illness and injury among any of you while at work. The manner you do this can range from finding a way to reduce stress in the workplace, or drawing up a drugs and alcohol policy, to stamping out bullying and harassment from your workplace.
One important thing is that workplace health maintenance has a range of business benefits:
- It makes for lower absenteeism on the part of staffs
- It enhances improved relationships with customers and suppliers
- It improves productivity
- It reduces staff turnover
Overall, it can cut your cost of managing your business and improve its performance.
In maintaining a healthy workplace you must boldly address:
- The issue of stress – what aspect of work is likely to cause it?
- repetitive strain injury or work-related upper limb disorders
- back pain
- bullying, discrimination and harassment by other staff, managers or members of the public, such as customers
- the control of hazardous substances
- heat, light and noise
You must also support staffs when they become ill by:
- following best practice on rehabilitation
- making reasonable adjustments on work schedules
It is also important to bear in mind that health problems are not only limited to immediate injury and disease. They can include the effects of long-term exposure to asbestos and other fibres, vapour and dust, bacteria and viruses, noise, vibration and other physical risks. They can also include psychological and social issues such as violence, bullying and sexual harassment.
- Smoking, drug and alcohol abuse – not only can an addiction affect an individual’s performance, his or her values can have a significant impact on colleagues. It is also not advisable to smoke in workplaces and company vehicles used by more than one person.
- Stress – excessive pressure, work concerns or personal problems can affect your staffs’ psychological, social and physical well-being.
- Back pain and repetitive strain injury (RSI) – a variety of lifting and other kinds of work, including hours of computer work, can result in injury or longer-term disability. Good ergonomics can help reduce the risks.
- Control of hazardous substances – using chemicals or other hazardous substances at work can put people’s health at risk. You must control exposure to hazardous substances to prevent ill-health.
- Disease prevention and control – you should promote good health and take measures to reduce the risks of diseases, infections and allergies.
- Heat, light, noise and vibration – consider exposure to sudden changes in temperature, poor lighting and excessive vibration or noise levels.
- Radiation – exposure to radiation (ionising and non-ionising) is a risk in manufacturing, construction, engineering and education occupations as well as medical and dental practices and the nuclear industry.
- Violence, bullying and harassment – physical violence or psychological intimidation can have a serious impact on staff well-being. An effective discipline and grievance procedure is essential in tackling such problems. In addition to protecting staffs from harassment from other members of staff, you should also take steps to protect them from harassment from third parties such as customers and suppliers.
- Work-life balance – working practices help staffs achieve a better balance between their work and personal lives which can increase their productivity at work.
To establish and maintain a working environment that safeguards staff welfare you need to put into place systems which allow you to:
- identify and involve workers in assessing workplace risks
- assess and consider staff needs when planning and organizing work
- provide advice, information and training to staffs, as well as mechanisms for feedback such as a suggestion scheme
- regularly monitor and record staffs’ health
Effective management of workplace health should be able to improve general health and prevent work-related illness and injury. It should also include intervening early when health problems arise. Depending on the business sector in which you operate, you and your staffs are likely to face specific occupational health issues:
- Transport – you should consider drivers’ comfort and posture as well as the hours they spend at the wheel.
- Building and construction – consider employees’ fitness for particular tasks as well as preventing injury and exposure to excessive noise, vibration and hazardous materials.
- Manufacturing – take into account a range of hazards, from excessive noise and temperature extremes, to potentially dangerous processes, materials and chemicals.
- Agriculture – consider possible causes of stress such as long hours and isolation as well as possible exposure to dangerous chemicals, pesticides and zoo noses (diseases that can be spread from animals to humans).
- Offices – look at the ergonomics – seating, desks, lighting and screens, noise levels.
- Food and Catering – consider the risks of allergies and infections posed by contact with certain substances.
- Retail, Hotel and Catering – consider how you can protect staffs, particularly those in customer-facing roles, from third-party harassment.
- Warehousing – consider how exposure to sudden changes in temperature, lifting heavy items and poor lighting can affect health.
The condition and cleanliness of your workplace have a direct impact on the welfare of your staffs. You must meet a range of minimum workplace standards under health and safety law, if there are any in the country. You must provide:
- clean toilets, with water, soap and a towel or drier
- access to drinking water
- clean working areas, with waste regularly removed
- adequate space to work in
- a comfortable working temperature