ROI: occ health examples

27 November, 2015  |  News

Getting a chief executive to pay attention to occupational health issues can be a challenge because they often work in six-month increments and so tend to focus on the urgent, potentially neglecting the important.

James Fletcher, chair of the Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum's leadership sub-committee, told a forum health seminar in Auckland last month that getting health issues taken seriously requires breaking this typical cycle of short-termism. Chief executives, he said, need help in balancing the urgent with the important. He recommended bringing a broader lens to the issue: to think about the people element, and whether an occupational health intervention could drive better engagement or productivity.

Fletcher, former managing director of OCS Ltd, said occupational health was difficult because of latency times and low visibility, and a sense that some workers with health issues might have been "inherited" from previous employers. Nevertheless, employers have a social and moral responsibility to address health issues. "It's not about saving money. It's about return on investment for doing the right thing."

He offered three examples of health interventions during his time at OCS. In the first, he visited the company's Auckland airport car valet service and noticed a very noisy compressor was next to the car wash bay. The compressor was on all day. The first response was to do baseline hearing testing and issue valet staff with better hearing protection. But that was only minimisation. The compressor was moved further away, and the company launched a review of the noise levels of all its cleaning equipment. Better, quieter equipment was ordered - more expensive but higher quality and it lasted longer. And the lower noise levels allowed some contracts to be moved from night to day cleaning.

"We got better efficiency, better buy-in from clients, and better buy-in from staff."

Another example was during the redesign of the head office towards an open plan, hot-desking collaborative environment. The company was aware that open plan working is associated with higher rates of sickness, and that fixed height desks would not suit everyone. So it went for adjustable height hot desks with a clear desk policy (at the end of each day). Sickness absenteeism went down, the productivity of the cleaners went up by 30%, and staff were better engaged in a more collaborative environment.

The third example related to the company's contract with the police to clean up crime scenes, such as the Ashburton WINZ office after the fatal shootings. The company now recognises such work poses mental health issues for its staff and offers pre-cleanup and post-cleanup counselling, and cleaners always have a buddy on site. "We constantly check in: how are you feeling? Do you need a rest? It's not something we would have thought of as a workplace hazard."

Source: Alert24 30/11/15,