Workplace health – international response

Rory O’Neil, editor of Hazards magazine has written in response the SafetyAtWorkBlog posting on workhealth initiatives.  His response was posted on one of the many safety-related Internet discussion forums and was brought to my attention by Andrew Cutz and others.

WorkHealth initiatives – it’s about the workers, isn’t it?

The Victorian system is not garnering the necessary support because it is lifestyle focussed and has not answered concerns raised by unions, who want the programme to also address conditions caused or exacerbated by work. Business is annoyed because unions had the audacity to require that workers have a say in measures relating to their health (the poor little things are supposed to be passive recipients, apparently, taking the medicine and behaving like good little children). Below is my little news summary from 1 November.

There’s a rash of these lifestyle related interventions around the industrialised world. The EU is pushing fruit into some workers’ mouths, for example, as part of the ISAFRUIT project. However, two apples a day don’t make a worker as happy and healthy as a pay rise or some constructive participation in decisions about how work is organised, how satisfying that work might be and at what pace and for what reward. Or wage levels that allow healthy dietary choices for the whole family, at home and at work.

The lifestyle-focussed projects tend to be couched in language about making the worker healthier but are frequently more concerned with reducing sickness absence costs and winnowing out all but the superdrones that can work long hours in bad jobs without complaint. If employers cared so much, sickness absence procedures would not include punitive elements and health and safety whistleblowers wouldn’t be an endangered species. The unionisation campaign at Smithfield is a pretty clear case in point – bad jobs, bad pay, runaway strains and injuries and victimisation for those would stood up against it.

I’ve nothing against been given free fruit, free gym membership or anything free for that. But the time to use the gym, eat the fruit and have a life both inside and outside work that is meaningful and fulfilling might make it easier to swallow. This issue is about good jobs, with good conditions of employment and good remuneration. If workplace health policy ignores these factors, then it is an irresponsible diversion.

This is my latest measured contribution on the issue:

You big fat liars [Hazards 104, October-December 2008]
Oh, they say it’s because they care. They’ll weigh us, keep tabs on our bad habits and ask questions when we are sick. And when we fall short of perfection, they label us shirkers, sickos and slobs. Hazards editor Rory O’Neill questions whether all this attention from employers is really for our own good. more
More on this theme: www.hazards.org/workandhealth

If ACOEM is developing policy, then it should consider how work factors dominate our working days and frames the comfort and health of our working lives and beyond. That means integrating better work into any health model and making sure workers are allowed to participate fully in – and influence the design and operation of – any workplace health system.

Rory also points to the Trade Unions Congress posting that quotes the Victorian union response to the WorkHealth program and says this about the major employer group’s position:

The employers’ group, meanwhile, is adamant it will not accept the changes under any circumstances. David Gregory, the head of workplace relations at the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said it amounted to making the programme an ‘industrial weapon.’

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