To mark World Day for Safety and Health at Work on April 28 we asked the chair of the Responsibility Deal health at work network, Dame Carol Black, to consider what this day means for business and organisations in the country and why the Responsibility Deal offers real opportunities.
“On this World Day, let us mobilize nationally and internationally to secure a safe and healthy working environment for all, giving highest priority to the principle of prevention.” Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization
Many of the articles you read relating to this annual World Day for Safety and Health at Work will take the viewpoint of employees – and rightly so. I want to take a complementary perspective – to reflect on what this event means for employers and their organisations.
There is compelling evidence that a healthy, engaged workforce benefits everyone – not only employees but also the businesses they work for, bringing improved productivity and quality of service.
In 2009/10, 23.4 million days were lost by British industry due to work-related ill health. Taking into account all the costs and losses associated with working age ill health the annual economic cost is estimated to be over £100 billion.
Fortunately, there are things we can do to reduce this wasteful loss. Today there are many good examples of businesses and other organisations where investment in staff health and well-being – and strengthened engagement, which is an essential element of that investment – has yielded improved business performance.
There is more. Organisations with a demonstrable commitment to improving staff health benefit in other ways. Such commitment sends a positive message about their work culture, enhancing their reputation and helping to attract good candidates as well as helping to retain valued employees.
Businesses know the cost of sickness absence because it can be measured. But this does not give the whole picture. There is evidence that presenteeism – being at work when not really fit, and not being able to function well – can be an even greater problem. This state of affairs has also widened our appreciation of the scope of occupational health. Occupational health is not only about protecting staff from known hazards or supporting those who have declared health problems. Its concerns include safeguarding and promoting the health and well-being of all staff. Enlightened employers recognise, support and facilitate this wider view of occupational health.
The food and drink industry has a notable track record on workplace well-being. For example, the Food and Drink Federation has just published a new Workplace Wellbeing toolkit for UK businesses to help them set up or develop their own workplace programmes. Yesterday I helped launch this at Coco-Cola Great Britain head office where I was very impressed by the health at work facilities and initiatives for staff. Of course, Coca-Cola is a very big organisation but even the smallest business can do things to improve health and well-being at work.
Currently 209 partners have signed up to the Responsibility Deal health at work pledges. I would like to see even more businesses across all sectors signing up, with existing partners going even further. There is excellent work going on, but more can be done. The Responsibility Deal pledges offer businesses a simple and pragmatic way to shape and deliver their approach to improved workplace health.
A starting point is the pledge on publicly reporting on employee health, including sickness absence. This puts the issue clearly and firmly on the corporate agenda. It is the forerunner of the other health at work pledges.
Staff are our first resource, key to effective performance. Ensuring their health and wellbeing is integral to success in enabling businesses to meet the challenges we face today.
In this country nearly thirty million of us are at work. We spend a large part of each day in the workplace. The workplace offers many opportunities to drive health improvement – not only as part of the large public health endeavour but also for the better health of businesses and the economy.
Further information on World Day for Safety and Health at Work is available.