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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Health matters—Breaking down the silos

JANICE RIEGEN says it is time to integrate safety, health and wellbeing into a joined-up programme aimed at creating healthy workplaces.

A healthy workplace is like an umbrella, with spokes aligned and integrated at every level of the business to help foster “Good Work” – which is good for you, your family, the business, the community, society and the economy.

In 2010, the World Health Organisation’s publication Healthy Workplaces: a model for action contained this definition. “A healthy workplace is one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace…”.

The accompanying action model has four areas of focus: the physical and psychosocial work environment, the personal health resources available, and community involvement. These are underpinned by ethics, values, leadership, engagement and worker involvement.

This is a holistic, strategic quality improvement model, which is flexible and adaptable to any workplace, large or small, and which aligns with most cultural perspectives.


Is it the health and safety manager who is responsible for contributing to the creation of healthy workplaces? The wellbeing manager? The HR manager? The CEO? Or is it a matter to be tackled at government or community level? It is all of these. We need a collaborative, flexible approach, where we all take collective responsibility for the best outcomes.

Besides legislation, there are a number of drivers to focus our attention on creating healthy workplaces. We have an ageing workforce, with increasing chronic conditions such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, arthritis, as well as a changing world of work. All of these will affect your workplace and workforce. Also, anxiety and depression are set to become one of the leading causes of workplace absence.


Internationally, there is far more focus than in New Zealand on the links between health, safety, wellbeing and work. However, with our new legislation’s increased focus on risk, perhaps it is time for us to be more aware of the wellbeing context? Sedlatscheck (2012) identified that “psychosocial risks represent one of the key priorities in health and safety in the modern workplace …” In New Zealand, however, psychosocial hazards are often dismissed as “soft stuff” or ignored as being in the too-hard basket. Do we know what our psychosocial risks are? And how are we measuring, monitoring or managing them?

There is an explosion of evidence to support the critical importance of creating healthy workplaces. Professor Dame Carol Black, one of the international leaders in this field, has commissioned a vast amount of research and programmes. This recognises a cross-government approach to look at the importance of the health and wellbeing of the working age population. As further commitment, in November 2015 the UK Treasury announced over £115m to fund a joint Work and Health Unit. A recent release by the UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence, Workplace policy and management practices to improve the health and wellbeing of employees, brings some of the evidence together.


We need to bring the research to practice and practice to research. There is clear evidence that having healthy workplaces increases productivity, engagement, morale, job satisfaction, trust, meaning and purpose, creativity, innovation, and business outcomes. And that it decreases absenteeism, presenteeism, incidents, recruitment and turnover costs.

It is critical that we start those conversations: working together, using some common terminology, having cross-government approaches and linkages to academia, business, workers and communities. There needs to be committed leadership at multiple levels, where we can build on the evidence while adapting it to suit the New Zealand environment and culture, and leading by example. We are beginning to see a focus in these areas where groups and individual businesses are using the evidence, making changes and progressing.

We need to share stories of what works and what doesn’t. The WHO Healthy Workplace Action Model is a good place to start. It aligns with the Treaty of Waitangi and one of the Maori definitions of health, Te Whare Tapa Wha. It is about finding something that works for you and your organisation, that can be incorporated into existing ways of working, and that is strategic, holistic and part of quality improvement.


Do a stock take and acknowledge what you do already: celebrate successes, involve the unions, engage the workers. We need a public-private approach that doesn’t work in silos and works to combine our knowledge. By increasing engagement in your organisation, you will improve the health, safety and wellbeing of workers and the business.

As WHO has identified, creating healthy workplaces is the right, legal and smart thing to do.

Janice Riegen is a clinical nurse specialist with the occupational health and safety service of the Waitemata District Health Board. These are her personal views.

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