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Productivity requires healthy workforce

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Occupational health has been defined as the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations.

Talking Social Security with NSSA

This definition goes beyond the prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses, which is the most basic approach to occupational health. It suggests the positive promotion of good health and social well-being.

Employers with a real commitment to the health of their employees will go beyond the minimum prevention of ill health to the promotion of good health or, as the definition above puts it, to the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being.

Occupational health is about the inter-relationship between work and health. Work affects health. Health affects work. While ill-health results in a reduction in productivity due to absence from work or reduced capacity for work; good health, with employees who are in peak condition, can be expected to increase productivity.

While some employers may promote the well-being of their employees because they have a social conscience, for most it is more likely to be the realisation that good health and a high degree of physical, mental and social well-being is good for productivity that is likely to motivate them to do so.

NSSA’s occupational safety and health division encourages organisations of all sizes to go beyond the minimum safety and health regulations they are obliged by law to comply with and to come up with occupational safety and health systems that positively promote the safety, health and mental well-being of their staff.

Large organisations are encouraged to establish occupational safety and health departments led by qualified professionals and to have within operational departments safety and health representatives responsible for promoting good safety and health practices.

The components of a modern occupational health service are health promotion, injury and disease prevention, control of the work environment and work conditions, management of diseases and injuries, and the rehabilitation of workers incapacitated through injury or illness.

The key objectives are: facilitation of the placement of workers according to their physical, mental and emotional capability; protection of employees against health hazards in the workplace; encouragement and assistance of measures for personal health maintenance; and ensuring health care and rehabilitation of the occupationally ill or injured.

How comprehensive an organisation’s occupational health service may be will depend in part on its size, what it does, its organisational structure, the sector it is in, the business inputs and outputs, the complexity of the production processes involved, how hazardous they are and the organisation’s financial status.

Ideally a survey of the workplace should be carried out to identify possible safety and health risks.

This could be done internally or can be outsourced. Input should be obtained from workers on safety or health risks they face during their work shifts.

Common health hazards include poor workstation design, noise, dust, fumes, vapours, gases, chemicals, lighting, heat and the dangers posed by moving parts of machinery, poor electrical installations and badly installed and/or operated boilers.

Measurements should be obtained for variables such as noise levels. The level at which they pose a health risk should be established. Measures to address problems that may arise from exposure to these hazards will require financial resources and maybe even external expertise.

An analysis of past and present disease and injury patterns may give an indication of problem areas.

A written report on the findings of the workplace survey should be submitted to management so that top management is aware of the hazards and what needs to be done to overcome them.

Having assessed the safety and health hazards, an occupational health programme can be designed to address them. The programme should be goal-orientated. There should be a quantifiable goal. For instance one goal could be to reduce the incidence of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) by a certain percentage in the next year.

In order to measure the effectiveness of measures that are put in place, decisions need to be made on the frequency and type of health examinations required and on which workers.

The programme should include workers’ health surveillance, health education, sickness absence monitoring, rehabilitation and compensation of those who suffer workplace injury or ill health and feedback from employees and management through written reports. Provision has to be made for administration of the programme, which includes resource management and record keeping.

Employees should be made aware of the hazards found in the workplace and what is being done to address them.

It is a legal requirement that every employer provides a safe working environment as far as possible and ensures that the work process does not adversely affect workers’ health.

Establishing an occupational safety and health service requires commitment from top management, a well written and well defined safety and health policy and a clear understanding among all concerned of the expectations, role, functions and responsibilities of the service and those who run it.

NSSA is ready to offer advice on the establishment of an occupational safety and health service. It also runs occupational safety and health workshops.

Establishing a successful occupational safety and health service is a major undertaking. However, doing so can be expected to reduce workplace accidents and illnesses and ensure a healthy and productive workforce.

lTalking Social Security is published weekly by NSSA as a public service. There is also a weekly radio programme, PaMhepo neNssa/Emoyeni le NSSA, discussing social security issues at 6.50 pm every Thursday on Radio Zimbabwe and every Friday on National FM. There is another programme on Star Fm every Wednesday after 5,30 pm. Readers can e-mail issues they would like dealt with in this column to mail@mhpr.co.zw or text them to 0772 307 913. Those with individual queries should contact their local NSSA office or telephone NSSA on (04) 706517-8 or 706523 5.

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