Authors: S Hampson, Z Kirsten, T Singh

Source: Occupational Health Southern Africa; 22(5) September/October


Unhealthy lifestyles contribute to the global burden of disease and impact negatively on work due to increased absenteeism and presenteeism, low morale and poor productivity. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that the worksite is a priority setting for health promotion in the 21st century. It has been estimated that workplace health programmes can improve productivity to an equivalent 20% of the Gross Domestic Product in some countries. However, ironically, if someone experiences a serious job-related injury, the site usually shuts until a root-cause analysis is completed. However, if an employee succumbed to a myocardial infarction on the job due to high cholesterol, work would continue uninterrupted. The fragmentation of health protection programmes (safety and the work environment) and health promotion activities (wellness and disease management) in the workplace limits their overall effectiveness and is not cost effective. Workplaces, physical communities and the home are interrelated, and health behaviours extending across all three cannot be separated. Therefore, the concept ‘Workplace Health Protection and Promotion’ (WHP&P) systematically integrates health, safety and wellness activities to enhance the overall wellbeing of employees. It is counter-intuitive that the benefits of the inter-relationship between employee health and organisational productivity affords employers a return on allocated resources. As ongoing economic challenges compel individuals to spend more time at work, the role of the workplace in promoting better health is pivotal. Workplaces are considered microcosms of larger social networks and have the potential to reach large segments of the population through pre-established and well organised communication channels. Therefore, the workforce can be used to stimulate healthy lifestyle habits that can be carried over to communities, linking to primary prevention which can positively impact on the overall health reform in the country. Workplaces also provide an opportunity for tailoring programmes and messages to meet specific cultural needs of industry and demographic groups. This paper highlights the benefits of an integrated workplace protection and promotion programme, and the role of effective communication in affecting behavioural change; it also discusses the impact of technology on imparting information.