Module 1
Introduction to
workplace health

In this section you will learn:  

What “workplace health promotion” entails

Why the workplace is a key environment for health promotion

What the biggest workplace health risk factors are

The benefits of health promotion for your business

Why it is so important to gain management support

How to build a business case

What is "Workplace health promotion"?

Workplace health promotion is about encouraging staff to lead a healthy lifestyle as part of their everyday working life.

Occupational health and safety aims to protect workers from illness and injury happening at work, whereas workplace health promotion looks to create a work environment which helps to reduce the risk of developing chronic disease.1 Chronic diseases are those that are prolonged in duration and are often associated with lifestyle behaviours.2 They include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and some cancers and are responsible for about 85% of the total burden of disease in Australia.3

The keys to creating a healthy workplace are:

  1. Health policy
  2. Supportive physical environments
  3. Participation in education and activities

Why is workplace health promotion important?

The World Health Organization recognises the workplace as a priority setting for health promotion.1 We spend a large proportion of our waking hours at work, so why not take advantage of this time to promote health and wellbeing?

Workplace health promotion not only benefits workers by reducing their risk of chronic disease, but it’s also great for business.

Click on the table headings to see some of the benefits for organisations and employees.

The benefits1

  • A well-managed health and safety program
  • A positive and caring image
  • Improved staff morale
  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Reduced sick leave
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced healthcare costs
  • Reduced risk of fines and litigation
  • A safe and healthy work environment
  • Enhanced self-esteem
  • Improved morale
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Increased health awareness and skills
  • Improved health
  • Improved sense of wellbeing

SNAP risk factors

The key disease risk factors in workplace health are:
Smoking, Nutrition, Alcohol, Physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour (SNAP)

Healthier Workplace WA focuses on these because they are leading risk factors for chronic diseases and workplaces have the power to influence them. It is important to have a good understanding of the SNAP risk factors and the associated national guidelines, as these should be reflected in, and support your workplace health strategies.

Click the symbols below to reveal more information

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Smoking

Smoking is a leading cause of death and disease in Australia, resulting in cancers, heart disease, respiratory disease and many other damaging and potentially fatal conditions.3 Passive smokers, who unintentionally inhale second-hand smoke are at risk too.4

For more information, check out the information on environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) in the workplace and the National guidance note on the elimination of ETS in the workplace.

Did you know?

  • 12.5% of Western Australians over the age of 18 smoke daily.5
  • More than 1,500 Western Australians die each year from smoking-related causes, which is more than four West Aussies per day!6
  • A study from 2014 showed that smoking costs Western Australia a staggering $3 billion a year. $730 million of this were costs to businesses alone.7

Research shows that more people smoke in these industries than any other:8

  • Manufacturing
  • Transport and storage
  • Accommodation and restaurants

Nutrition

Poor nutrition relates to the poor intake of nutrient rich foods, such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, as well as the excessive consumption of ‘discretionary’ foods (high in energy or kilojoules, saturated fat, sugar and salt, and low in nutrients).9 It can result in poor health outcomes such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.9 These health outcomes are widely recognised as Australia’s leading health concerns as they are strongly linked with chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.9,10


For more information, check out the Australian Dietary Guidelines

Did you know?

  • Only 48% of Australians meet the daily recommendation of 2 serves of fruit.11
  • Only 8% of Australians meet the daily recommendation of 5 serves of vegetables.11
  • Adults are eating 36% of their daily energy (kilojoule) requirements in the form of ’discretionary‘ foods3,12 such as sugary drinks, chips, meat pies, chocolate and cakes. These foods can result in weight gain, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.9
  • Data suggests that 1 in 3 Australians have high cholesterol.3,13
  • Data suggests that 1 in 3 Australians have high blood pressure.3
  • In Australia, 69.7% of men and 55.7% of women are overweight or obese.11
  • Sadly, chronic diseases related to obesity may cause the current generation of children to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.14

Eating a diet high in nutrient-rich foods, such as fruit and vegetables, and limiting the intake of discretionary foods to only occasionally and in small amounts, will assist in maintaining a healthy weight and help prevent the onset of chronic disease.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can significantly affect long term health. There are several chronic diseases associated with alcohol consumption, including cancer (e.g. bowel, breast, throat, mouth, oesophagus, liver), heart disease, liver disease, stroke and mental health problems.15,16

For more information, check out the How much alcohol is safe to drink?

Did you know?

  • Nearly 1 in 5 Australian adults drink at levels considered harmful to their health, which equates to more than 2 standard drinks on any day.3
  • About 90% of the Australian workforce population consumes alcohol.18
  • Alcohol costs Australian workplaces an estimated $3.5 billion annually in lost productivity.18
  • Harmful alcohol use reduces workplace productivity, safety and work relations, and increases absenteeism.18

Physical inactivity

With changes in transportation, technology, many types of work (e.g. office work) and leisure activities becoming increasingly sedentary, there has been a decline in physical activity and an increase in sitting. The ABS (2011 – 12) has reported that “sedentary behaviour is believed to be associated with the rise in overweight and obesity, and has been shown to increase an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease, colon and breast cancers, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis”.19

For more information, check out the Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines

Did you know?

  • Worldwide, physical inactivity is the 4th leading risk factor for mortality, contributing to 6% of deaths.20
  • It is the 5th leading risk factor for men and the 3rd leading risk factor for women.21
  • Nearly 3 in 5 Australian adults (57%) do not exercise enough to meet physical activity guidelines.3

Relevance for industry

All organisations are different and come with their own individual health risks. Factors such as long hours, night shift, how big your organisation is and how long you need to sit for, can all contribute to unhealthy behaviours.

When planning your workplace health and wellbeing program, it’s important to think about these workplace characteristics. It may not always be possible to change how your workplace is run, but strategies could be implemented to improve healthy choices.

How your business can help:

  • Introduce healthy policies
  • Ensure the work environment supports and encourages healthy choices
  • Provide education and activities around health issues

For example, on-the-road workers may have limited access to healthy food. This could be addressed through policy and environment by ensuring a cooler bag is provided. This coupled with healthy eating education may encourage workers to bring healthy foods from home.

Select your industry8

National average (07/08) Your industry The difference
Current smokers National average (07/08) Your industry The difference
Inadequate fruit & vegetable intake National average (07/08) Your industry The difference
Alcohol consumption (More than 2 standard drinks on any day) National average (07/08) Your industry The difference
Physical inactivity (Based on planned physical activity) National average (07/08) Your industry The difference

Information like this can be used to look at your own industry and think about what is influencing these behaviours. It can give you a starting point and enable you to consider what the workplace can do to positively influence these behaviours.

Please note: The data displayed in this table is based on 2007/08 data. More recent non-industry specific national data is available from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report: 2013 and the Australia’s Health 2014 report.

Role of management and gaining their support

Getting the support of senior managers is especially important as they can commit money and people to the program and help make it a success. If managers lead the change by supporting the program goals and participating, workers will be more enthusiastic and motivated to join in.

A great way to gain management support is to provide evidence of how investing in workplace health and wellbeing will benefit the business.

Recent studies and reports indicate several benefits that effective workplace health and wellbeing programs can produce for both individuals and businesses.

Click the arrows to see some of the potential benefits of workplace health and wellbeing programs.

Up to24%

Overall improvement in worker's health.22

Up to29%

Increase in productivity at work.22

Reduced likelihood of industrial accidents or injuries.23

Up to21%

Reduction in absence due to sickness.22

Create a positive work environment, resulting in happier and safer workers.24,25

Decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, breast and colon cancer.26

Provide a return-on-investment: Studies show that for every $1 invested in health promotion over a 3-year period, return-on-investment for employers’ ranges from $1.40 to $4.70.27

Building your business case

What goes into your business case will depend on:

  • Any existing business case processes in your workplace
  • The needs of your workplace
  • The size of your planned initiatives

You may need to speak with your manager to help you decide on the best approach, and identify existing resources to help you.

The advantage of preparing a business case for management is that it forces you to thoroughly think about your program:

  • What you intend to do and why
  • What you need to make it successful
  • How you will go about managing it

A successful business case would consist of answers to the following questions.

Click the symbols below to reveal more information.

Putting it into practice

Policy, environment, and education and activities are integral to your health and wellbeing program. The combination of all three can result in a program that is comprehensive and successful. Implementing one without the other can lead to mixed messages and therefore result in limited behaviour change.

Click the symbols below to reveal more information

Policy

A policy is a formal written document setting out an organisation’s intention in relation to managing health and wellbeing.28 A health policy demonstrates the commitment of your organisation to providing a work environment that encourages good health.

Environment

The physical workplace environment (infrastructure and facilities) should support and reinforce your health-related policies, education and activities in order to make healthy choices the easy choices.28 Even small improvements can significantly increase the health of your employees.

Education and activities

Education provides employees with knowledge on how their behaviours affect their health, which may motivate them to make healthier choices. Activities provide an opportunity for employees to practice new skills in a non-judgemental environment. Education and activities alone, however, is the least likely of the three elements to bring about changes in personal behaviour.

Workplace health programs in action

See how Steel Blue used their Healthier Workplace WA grant to create a supportive workplace culture to help their workers get healthier.

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