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LEFT OF CENTRE: Illness will hurt bottom line

Gina Pitts

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The World Health Organization (WHO) defined health in its broader sense in 1946 as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Others would add spiritually to reflect completeness.  
The question is how this relates to health and wellness in the workplace and whether employers have a greater role in assisting with workplace wellness.
Wellness is more complex as it exists on a continuum and is unique to each individual person.
Each of us defines our own wellness. Wellness is first and foremost a choice to assume responsibility for the quality of one’s life. So while employers may wish to extend health and wellness programmes in their environment, any employee is only going to differentiate the benefits at that personal level and health may not be a priority.
There is also often confusion regarding wellness vs occupational health screening which is defined clearly by the International Labour Organization as “the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations; the prevention among workers of departures from health caused by their working conditions; the protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health; the placing and maintenance of the worker in an occupational environment adapted to his physiological and psychological capabilities; and, to summarize, the adaptation of work to man and of each man to his job.
The Safety & Health At Work Act 2005 replaced the existing Factories Act Cap 347 and should eventually assist businesses with ensuring that they meet their statutory health screening function.
Any astute business would do well to consider the benefits of engaging in a structured wellness programme – especially if they are interested in increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism.
In my previous life as a Health Care Service manager for an occupational Health Service Unit covering nearly 1000 staff, the first step was to get buy-in from the principal managers and supervisors.
They need to have the benefits explained together with the dollar-value savings.
Members of staff need to be viewed as assets to a company and have a true dollar value.
The cost savings of providing a workplace health programme can be measured against absenteeism among employees, reduced over time to cover absent employees, and costs to train replacement employees together with reduced workplace accidents.
The wellness initiative does not have to be formal – simple ideas include considering healthier snacks and beverages at meetings, in vending machines and canteens, and asking your supplier to provide nutritional information as you aim to reduce hidden saturated fat and sugar content for your clients and staff alike.  
Provide departmental breaks or sports competitions that include some form of physical activity, or create policies that promote work-life balance and reward healthier behaviour.                   
There is no doubt that the tidal wave of chronic disease in Barbados will affect business whether they like it or not and businesses that ignore this fact may do so at their own risk!
• Gina Pitts is CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados.