This week we’re going to look at a specific example to see how you might approach managing health risks in your own workplace.
What’s at stake?
Managing medical conditions in the workplace, such as Asthma, Anaphylaxis and chronic heart problems can difficult. Each of these common conditions can have a large impact on your business. For example, a recent study estimated that over 50 000 person years of work time are lost each year in Australia because of Asthma alone.(Chronic disease and participation in work, 2009, http://www.aihw.gov.au)
The good news is that the approach to managing health issues in the workplace is the same as when managing safety risks:
Let’s see how we can apply this using the example of Heart Disease and Heart Attack
A clear and simple plan of action is important because you will get better and more efficient results than if you just throw money and people at a problem with no direction.
In the case of risk of heart attack, steps you could take include:
- Research the factors that increase the risk of a heart attack and Cardiac Arrest using resources such as the Heart Foundation of Australia
- Assess your workforce, customers and visitors to determine the approximate level of risk.
The greater the number of people with high risk factors in your workplace, the more urgent it is to take action. A workplace may decide they are higher risk because they have an older workforce or workers who are overweight, smokers or living a sedentary lifestyle or even because they have members of he public regularly visiting their workplace.
Once you know the level of risk in your workplace, you can set some reachable targets (or Positive performance indicators – PPIs) to lower the risk. This is important as you will only waste your own time and resources if you do not have clear goals to reach.
What goals could you set?
You should look at risk factors involved and determine which are within your ability to influence or modify. In the case of lowering the risk of a heart attack and cardiac arrest, you may be limited to which factors you can directly influence. For example you can’t force an employee to lose weight, so setting that as a goal is inappropriate. But you could set the goal of increasing worker participation in an active lifestyle, which decreases one of the risk factors directly and could lead to indirectly reducing others, such as weight, without getting too personal.
When you have a clear goal in mind, you can start to make an action plan.
With all health risks, your response can be made up of one or both of the following areas, depending on the level of risk:
- First aid response measures – This may include additional training for workplace first aiders and the purchase of additional equipment such as an automatic external defibrillator or AED.
- Preventative actions – Awareness campaigns, health and well being programs
The first step might be to budget for an appropriate Automatic Defibrillator and additional training for first aiders.
A second step could be to plan a program to increase awareness of the risk factors involved and provide incentives. This could be programs such as discounted memberships to fitness clubs, to encourage workers to minimise their risk or providing additional services to workers such as healthier snack choices.
Once you have a clear plan of action, you are ready to take the next step – Implement
If you’ve completed the first step correctly, you now have a clear plan of action to put into practice. In most cases there are three things you need to get right:
- The right people – You need people to drive your plan and make it a success. These may be first aiders, who receive additional training. It may mean service providers that come to your workplace. And it may mean you needing to make sure that each step of the plan is put into practice
- The right equipment and tools – You need to purchase and setup the tools that your plan requires. It may be a piece of equipment like an AED or a prepackaged course, like a wellness program. You will also need to get it put in place and installed properly.
- The right processes – These ensure that everyone knows what’s going on, what’s expected of them and how to respond in an emergency. It should include things such as how you will “spread the word” about the issue, for example toolbox talks or staff notice board. and how any new tools fit in with the existing ones.
Arranging and putting these three things in place ensures you will get your plan effectively implemented.
Once you have had your plan in action for a reasonable length of time, you need to review it and assess how well it’s working. Some key questions to ask are:
- Did the plan meet or exceed its stated targets?
- Has there been an increase in the awareness of the health risk?
- Has there been a change in behavior patterns?
- If there has been an event where first aid treatment was needed, was the response appropriate and successful in managing the condition?
Once you have answered these questions you will get an understanding of how successful the plan has been. As you review the plan you will see areas where you can improve.
If any clear areas of improvement are shown, you can adjust the plan accordingly and implement the changes.
While this is the third step, it is by no means the end of the process. Often the review process will lead to improvements in the plan. You may set higher targets for your workplace. You may refine your processes. Or you may decide that it’s working smoothly and can keep going for another period of time without adjustment.
Protecting the health of your workers is important. Follow these three key steps – Plan, Implement and Review – and it will lead to effective outcomes for your workplace.