Workplace wellbeing

Until now the focus of workplace health and safety has always been on safeguarding employees against risk of physical harm.

Until now the focus of workplace health and safety has always been on safeguarding employees against risk of physical harm in accordance with section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. What is often missed at first glance, however, is that the section also confers a duty on the employer to safeguard their employees’ welfare at work, and large organisations such as the NHS are now starting to consider ways of doing just that.

Published on 16 May 2018, the NHS Workforce Health and Wellbeing Framework sets out in its introduction that staff absence costs the organisation £2.4bn a year. The document identifies both ‘Organisational Enablers’ such as effective line management and a healthy working environment as well as ‘Health Interventions’ such as the prevention and self-management of mental health and musculoskeletal problems as being methods to safeguard staff health and wellbeing.

The framework deals with the issue of staff wellbeing in a similar way to a Risk Assessment Method Statement, identifying the control measures that form the basis of a safe system of work. Each section starts with a description of what the ideal work environment looks like and then provides best practice examples of services who are already demonstrating elements of the template provided.

The ‘Healthy working environment’ section for example, provides guidance on how to create good physical infrastructure and identifies potential measures such as compliance with the HSE Welfare at Work standards that need to be considered as part of the implementation of any plan. This particular section discusses the need to improve nutrition and reduce sugar available to their employees and suggests measures such as ‘80% of confectionary and sweets not to exceed 250kcal’ as ways to achieve this outcome.

This is an extensive document that was two years in the making and goes into much more detail than would be considered reasonably practicable in a small organisation. However, it highlights need for employers to be more open-minded about workplace health and safety and consider risks to their workforce that may not be so apparent.

The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has produced freely available guidance on this subject entitled ‘Working Well: Guidance on promoting health and wellbeing at work’ and section 5 of this guidance outlines how employers should promote health. It indicates that ‘at its simplest, employers need to provide employees with information and create opportunities for them to engage in a healthy lifestyle’.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) confirms that employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work and they are therefore required to undertake a risk assessment and act upon it. HSE guidance ‘Tackling work-related stress using the Management Standard approach’ outlines the risk factors that can be causes of work-related stress and the suggested actions that can be taken to reduce stress and improve workplace wellbeing.

Below are a few examples that organisations of any size could introduce to improve their employees wellbeing:

  • Have a flexible working policy that allows employees to exercise before work or during lunch break
  • Provide healthy eating options in canteens and vending machines
  • Arrange staff discounts at local leisure centres and health clubs
  • Provide information on walks near work
  • Provide support to employees who want to quit smoking
  • Ensuring robust policies and procedures are in place to combat bullying and harassment
  • Educating employees on self-management tools and techniques such as mindfulness or peer support.

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