Health & Wellness Initiatives to Combat Obesity in the Workplace

The World Health Organization describes the prevalence of obesity as an epidemic – and New Zealanders are taking out the Bronze medal in the ongoing race to be the world’s heaviest nation.

Obesity is associated with a wide range of health risks – and it can also have a significant negative impact for businesses. Learn more about obesity in the workplace in New Zealand, and the Dos and Don’ts of supporting health and wellness at work.

What is Obesity?

Obesity is defined as an excessively high amount of body fat in relation to lean body mass. 

Obesity Health Impacts & Risks

Obesity is associated with a long list of health conditions including, but not limited to:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Ischaemic heart disease (IHD)
  • Stroke
  • Several Common Cancers
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Reproductive abnormalities

As obesity also puts added strain on joints, the number of New Zealanders needing knee replacements is expected to skyrocket over the next 20 years – with researchers noting much of this is to do with the country’s alarming obesity rates.

Obesity in New Zealand

New Zealand has the third highest adult obesity rate in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), behind only the United States and Mexico.

Obesity rates in New Zealand continue to rise, with around one in three adult Kiwis (over 15 years) being classified as obese, and one in ten children. In 2015, 1.1 million New Zealanders were considered clinically obese but by 2038 that could be two million.

A 2018 Otago University report published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health showed the average Body Mass Index (BMI) of New Zealanders increased from 26.4 in 1997 to 28.3 in 2015. The report estimates that, if this trend continues, New Zealand’s averageBMI would exceed the obesity threshold of 30 by the early 2030s.

Researcher Dr Ross Wilson from the University of Otago’s Centre for Musculoskeletal Outcomes Research at the Dunedin School of Medicine stated that high BMI has now “overtaken tobacco as the greatest contributor to health loss in New Zealand”, which emphasises the public health importance of the research findings.

The Impact of Obesity on Businesses

Numerous studies have been conducted globally to quantify the impact of obesity in the workplace. Key findings show:

Obese employees will often need to take more time off work – both short and long term – because of associated health conditions.

Obesity can affect the productivity of a workplace. Because an obese employee’s health may be worse, and they may be more likely to suffer from issues such as back problems or sleep apnoea – meaning that, even if they aren’t taking time off work, ‘presenteeism’ can be an issue, as their health conditions may affect their ability to perform productively.

Both absenteeism and presenteeism can cause significant workplace costs for businesses. One study concluded that an organisation with more than 1000 staff members could expect to face upwards of $245,000 annually in lost productivity due to employee obesity.

Obesity & the Workplace

While it’s all well and good for employers to bemoan the negative impacts of obesity on their bottom line, it’s important to note that the relationship between obesity and work is complex. Routines and behaviours at work – particularly given that much of modern work is sedentary – can have a substantial impact on lifestyle and wellbeing.

It’s clearly not the job of employers to make judgements or pass comment on the size and weight of employees – especially when work can often play a major part in influencing eating and exercise habits.

Instead, encouraging exercise and healthy eating among staff members should form part of a far broader initiative to promote staff health and wellbeing. Employers can do this in many ways – from introducing walking meetings and cycle-to-work schemes, to offering discounted gym memberships or providing only healthy foods onsite in cafeterias and vending machines.

Supporting Health & Wellness at Work

While it can be uncomfortable talking to employees about topics such as obesity, studies show that wellness initiatives can boost morale, productivity and performance at work. Developing a well-rounded ‘wellness strategy’ in the workplace facilitates these kinds of conversations without making employees feel uncomfortable, or employers and HR teams feel as though they’re finger-wagging.

Want to help your workforce make better choices and move into sustainably healthy routines? Consider ways in which your organisation can provide opportunities for staff to (a) eat a healthy diet, through accessibility, promotion and incentivised cost, and (b) get more exercise throughout the workday.

In developing your organisation’s plan to push people towards better health and wellness outcomes, it’s vital to take care not to alienate, discourage or even harm employees by following the simple Dosand Don’tsoutlined below.

DO Encourage Healthy Choices & Physical Activity

Your employees spend most of their time at work – so it’s important to foster a workplace culture and environment that encourages healthy behaviours. This may include offering healthy food choices, or simply encouraging employees to get up and walk around at regular intervals – which studies show can actually increase their productivity as well as their physical fitness. 

To create a more activity-friendly workplace, consider installing standing desks and holding standing and walking meetings. Something as simple as moving water coolers, rubbish bins and printer stations away from desks helps encourage more movement. 

DO Think Like Your Marketing Team

Exercise and healthy eating can be a hard sell to employees, so communicate information about health and wellness initiatives in ways that encourage positive action. Place messaging about wellness in strategic areas like the foot of the stairs or on elevator doors to encourage exercise. Use gamification to challenge employees to a day without sugar or an activity scavenger hunt. 

DO Implement a Total Wellness Approach

Wellbeing is multidimensional – incorporating physical, social, emotional and financial factors – so it’s important that workplace programmes address multiple aspects of wellbeing. For example, a company touch football team can cater to employees’ social and physical needs. Look at the whole picture, and seek staff feedback to get a feel for what is going to engage them most and meet their needs best.

DON’T Make Broad Assumptions About Health

Health is not one-size-fits-all, so it’s important to remember that – although obesity can cause or exacerbate other health issues – some individuals may actually be “healthier” at higher weights.  

Encouraging staff to lose weight across the board, without considering their individual health profile, has the potential to lead to other health issues, so consider the unique needs of individuals.

DON’T Force Staff to Participate in Programmes 

There is still a great deal of stigma associated with obesity, so it’s vital that your organisation supports employees when they want to make healthy choices, without forcing them into programs they are unhappy about participating in. 

Demoralizing staff through enforced health programmes can impact productivity even more negatively than obesity, so take a gentle but inviting approach for best results and employee buy-in.

DON’T Focus Solely on Weight Loss

Competitions around weight loss can be dangerous, so avoid this kind of incentivising and gamification. Not only can these kinds of competitions alienate employees who really need support – they can foster unhealthy attitudes to food, nutrition and wellness, and have the opposite to the desire effect. Instead, as mentioned above, focus on a more holistic approach to wellness as whole. The goal should always be health and wellness, as opposed to kilograms or BMI.

Health & Wellness Employee Benefits to Recruit the Best Staff

Recruiting – and retaining – the right staff is vital to your organisation’s ability to grow and thrive. Studies show having great employee benefits on offer can help attract a higher calibre of candidates, while also fostering a positive company culture and encourage staff loyalty. Placing a focus on health and wellness in your employee benefits package is not only great for your staff… it’s also good for business! 

What are Employee Benefits?

Employee benefits can vary widely from company to company, but typically are considered non-salary compensation provided by organisations in addition to salary or wages to create a competitive package for employees.

Common employee benefits in New Zealand include mobile phone and laptop use, company car use, remote and flexible working agreements, retirement plans, and additional or discretionary leave entitlements.

Essentially, any ‘perks’ or rewards your business offers employees on top of their salary is considered part of their employee benefits! 

A solid employee benefits package can help to attract and retain talent.

How do Employee Benefits Assist in Recruitment?

As more people understand the importance of work-life balance, an increasing number of candidates and prospective employees are looking beyond their hourly rate or annual salary when considering which role is right for them.

Building an employee benefits package that appeals to, and meets the needs of, your current employees and target candidates – and then promotingthose benefits in recruitment materials – is a great way to show potential team members how much you value and reward you staff.

In a competitive industry, benefits can also help you differentiate your business from competitors. When considering similar positions with similar salaries, a candidate is going to look beyond the pay packet to the added extras – including those things that make a company great to work for. 

How do Employee Benefits Encourage Staff Loyalty?

As part of this trend towards greater work-life balance, an increasing number are looking to join organisations where they will feel valued, receive praise and recognition, and where the company culture is one of support and appreciation. 

Research shows employees stay in roles for far longer when they are happy and feel valued – and offering benefits to your employees shows them you are invested in their job satisfaction.

Offering an appealing employee benefits package that encourages staff retention will more often than not far outweigh the cost of recruitment and training when you have a higher staff turnover.

Health & Wellness Benefits

If you look at the companies rated the best places to work in the world (Google, Lululemon and Facebook rank consistently high, year after year), you’ll note that all of them have great employee benefits packages in place to recruit and retain staff – and most place a significant focus on health and wellness within those benefits packages.

For example, Google’s employees have access to free meals at campus cafes and micro kitchens, can stay fit by exercising at on-site gyms and attending free workout classes, and can enjoy relaxation time thanks to highly trained massage therapists available on-site. 

Facebook offers on-site health and dental care, free healthy meals and $4,000 “baby cash” bonuses for new parents. Lululemon encourages employee health and fitness with free classes, and company-paid fitness classes, which many employees attend together and excellent health insurance, including vision and dental.

Wellness Benefits Ideas

You don’t need to be a billion-dollar corporation to offer exciting and meaningful benefits to your employees. Here are some ideas that even SMEs and startups can build into their compensation packages to support employee health and wellness:

  1. Gym memberships 
  2. Aquatic centre memberships
  3. Health insurance
  4. Life insurance
  5. Dental and vision checks
  6. Fruit and healthy snacks at work
  7. Flexible work hours
  8. Remote work options
  9. Paid volunteer days
  10. Paid vacation days on birthdays
  11. Professional counselling 
  12. Paid professional development 
  13. Access to wellness retreats
  14. Access to wellbeing services such as chiropractors
  15. Ergonomic chairs and office equipment
  16. Additional paid parental leave
  17. Additional bereavement leave
  18. On-site or paid daycare
  19. Subscriptions to wellness packages
  20. Staff vaccinations

The great thing about health and wellness employee benefits is that they reward your staff while improving your company’s bottom line. Healthier employees mean reduced healthcare costs for your organisation, fewer sick days, and more employees bringing their best selves to work every day.

Accelerated Silicosis

Last month we wrote about the dangers of silica dust and silicosis. Since then WorkSafe have issued a safety alert for stonemasons working in the bench top manufacturing industry. This is after a high number of silicosis cases have been confirmed in Australia – 99 confirmed cases in people working with engineered stone bench tops. Silicosis is an irreversible and progressive disease that causes fibrosis of the lungs from inhaling respirable crystalline silica (RCS). Many of the Australian cases have been consistent with accelerated silicosis – a form of the disease which develops over a short period of time, between 5 and 10 years. 

Why Bench Tops?
Engineered stone bench tops are an increasingly popular choice for kitchens and bathrooms. They are made by mixing finely crushed rock with a polymeric resin and then moulded into slaps and cured. The silica content of this engineered stone is approx 90% silica — much higher than natural stone. The exposure comes when someone cuts, grinds, sands or polishes the material during the manufacture and installation. 

Advice From WorkSafe
Before starting work using engineered stone, businesses must complete a risk assessment and review their controls. It is important to consider eliminating uncontrolled dry cutting, grinding or polishing of engineered stone. If this is not possible than exposure heeds to be minimised. Read their full advice here

To monitor the exposure we can help organise a visit from on Occupational Hygienist. You can also engage our nursing team to carry out health monitoring of your employees. To contact our team email enquiries@triex.co.nz or call 0800 487 439.

If you have concerns about accelerated silicosis WorkSafe have a contact form on their website here, as well as links all their guidance documentation. 

Healthy Winter Eating

The official “Junk Free June” cause may no longer be running but this does not mean you shouldn’t focus on healthier eating habits. Winter is an important time to focus on your healthy eating as this is the time that we could easily find ourselves reaching for the extra snacks rather than heading outside for some exercise. 

Some important things you can do this winter to keep health include:

Eat Plenty of Fruit & Vegetables — Ensure your immune system is topped up with your 5+ a day of antioxidant containing fruit and vegetables. Pick fruit and vegetables that are in season and also make the most of canned or frozen fruits. 

Enjoy Soups — Soups are great in winter and can be quite simple to make. Include lots of vegetables, beans or lentils and some meat if you choose. Soup is great for building your immune system. Here is some winter soup inspiration from 5+ A Day.

Watch Your Portion Sizes — On those cold winter nights in it can be tempting to over indulge on snacks or large portion sizes. Try to use smaller plates at dinner time and ensure half that plat is vegetables!

Drink Plenty — And no, alcohol does not count! It may not be warm out but it’s important to keep those fluids up during the day with 6-8 glasses of fluids, preferably water.

Get Some Vitamin D — Winter sun (or lack of) can lead to us not getting enough Vitamin D over the winter months and Vitamin D is good for our bones. This means it becomes important to ensure we are getting Vitamin D from somewhere else. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are a good source, as are milk, milk products and eggs. You can also find foods that are fortified with Vitamin D.

Move More — It is important to keep moving in winter. If you don’t want to brave the elements you could find an indoor sport or exercise class or swim (indoors!). Take the stairs instead of the lift and if you are feeling brave, rug up and go for walk outdoors. Check out the Heart Foundations ‘10 ways to stay active during winter‘.

The 5+ A Day website has a great guide on health lunch options for your work day. Download it here.

TriEx can carry out Wellness assessments for your team. These assessments are a screening guide that enables you to adopt a targeted approach in identifying your health and wellness needs. These one on one assessments provide cardiovascular risk assessments of factors including blood pressure checks, cholesterol and glucose and the nurses providing advice on healthy living.

To learn more about our wellness services you can contact our team on 0800 487 439 or email enquiries@triex.co.nz

Are you going Dry this July?

Dry July is a fundraiser that challenges you to go alcohol-free and raise funds for those affected by cancer. Dry July is supporting Look Good Feel Better this year. Look Good Feel Better provides free community based programmes for anyone who is facing any type of cancer. These programmes provide an opportunity for cancer patients to connect, feel more in control and to look more like their normal selves. 

As well as helping raise money for a good cause, there are health benefits for you which includes better sleep, more energy, weight loss, healthier skin and best of all — no hangovers! Dry July have also put together some health and fitness tips to help you through, check these out here

To learn more visit www.dryjuly.co.nz

Respirator Fit Testing

If anyone in your team wears Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) then as the PCBU you must provide information, training or instruction on how to correctly use, wear, store and maintain the RPE.

Fit testing is required by AS/NZS 1715 before a respirator is worn in the workplace to ensure that workers are wearing properly fitting RPE, with an effective seal to the face. A fit test should be conducted at issue of RPE and then at least annually and/or;

>> Whenever a different size, style, model or make of respirator is used.

>> When any facial changes occur that could affect fit, such as significant weight changes or significant dental work.

It is also a good idea to complete fit testing alongside annual health monitoring where our Occupational Health Nurses discuss respiratory history and exposure history as well as completing spirometry (lung function testing).

TriEx carry out Qualitative Fit Testing for half face respirators, used in environments where the hazard is less than 10 times the WES (workplace exposure standard).

A sensitivity test is completed without RPE under a hood. The RPE is then worn and either a bitter or sweet solution is introduced into the hood whilst the worker carries out a variety of activities for one minute each including:

>> Normal breathing

>> Deep breathing

>> Moving head side to side

>> Moving head up and down

>> Bending over (or jogging in place)

>> Talking

>> Normal breathing again

Education is given regarding care and maintenance of respiratory equipment and how to fit check RPE.

To learn more about this service contact our health team on 0800 487 439 or email enquiries@triex.co.nz.

Silica Dust

What is Silica & Silica Dust?

Silica is everywhere. It’s part of bricks, concrete and mortar. It’s in tiles and the slates on our roofs. It’s found naturally in stone and rocks. Even some fillers and plastic composite products use silica. Left alone, silica is safe. But if you work on materials that are made up of silica, you’ll be releasing dangerous silica dust. Activities such as concrete drilling, cutting, grinding, fettling, mixing, handling, dry shoveling and tunneling can all result in exposure.

The industries with the highest risk of exposure include construction, quarrying, mining, concrete manufacturing, brick & tile manufacturing, foundries, abrasive blasting, roading and monumental masonry work.

Silica dust is the very fine dust that’s created when you cut, drill, grind, chip or sand materials and products like stone, bricks, concrete, tiles or mortar.

Why is Silica Dust Dangerous?

Silica dust can be harmful if you breathe it in. Silica dust particles are much smaller than normal dust (sometimes invisible to the naked eye) – and they can get deep into your lungs and stay there, permanently damaging the lung tissue and eventually leading to serious lung diseases in some people. Silica dust can cause silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease.

Eliminate the Exposure

Consider changing the product or process, for example use alternative products (eg metallic shot, slag products or grit for abrasive blasting, instead of sand).

Getting materials cut to size off-site in a facility where dust exposure can be controlled more easily.

Minimise the Exposure

Read more →

Asthma Awareness Day

Tuesday May 7 is World Asthma Day. World Asthma Day is held annually on the first Tuesday in May and is designed to improve asthma awareness and care globally.

Asthma is a chronic condition of the bronchioles — the small airways inside the lungs. The airways in a person with asthma are oversensitive and are easily irritated. The irritation causes the inside of the airway to become red and inflamed and the muscles surrounding the airway walls tighten. These two processes narrow the airway passages, making breathing very difficult at times.

New Zealand has one of the world’s highest asthma rates with asthma and respiratory diseases being two of the leading causes of sickness and death in New Zealand. 1 in 6 New Zealanders have a respiratory disease and it is the 3rd most common cause of death.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a term for the diseases emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma. COPD is the fourth top cause of death with 15% of New Zealanders aged over 45 having COPD. Most cases of COPD are linked to smoking, however this can also be caused from breathing in chemical fumes, dust and toxic substances while carrying out work.

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ has lots of great resources for asthma patients and carers on their website here.

World Day for Safety & Health At Work

Sunday April 28 is World Day for Safety and Health at Work which is an initiative of the International Labour Organisations (ILO). It was established to encourage remembrance and reflection on those who have lost their lives or been injured at work.

New Zealand sees 600-900 work-related deaths per year from health exposures, and in 2018 42 people died from work-related incidents.

The President of the New Zealand Institute of Safety Management (NZISM) Greg Dearsly has said that this day is another opportunity to put the spotlight on the true extent of work related health and safety incidents in New Zealand.

“Our current statistics do not represent the total problem,” he says. “While all countries report in the same way we should be looking at the wider problem and tackle three areas: workplace safety to protect workers from accidents, workplace health to address long term risks and issues and work related driver safety. Accidents at work grab headlines and sadly our statistics are still high compared to other OECD countries, so we need to continue our strong efforts to reduce them.”

He has also said that we need to put more attention on work health issues. If driving is part of any worker’s role, it should the responsibility of the employer to help them be a safer driver.

As the International Labour Organization (ILO) marks its 100th anniversary, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2019 takes stock of the past hundred years’ efforts to improve occupational safety and health and looks at how changes in the world of work will affect occupational safety and health in the future. View their video below.

How’s Your Hearing?

Did you know: 

  • More than 880,000 New Zealanders are living with hearing loss
  • 30% of all hearing loss is preventable
  • 16-37% of hearing loss globally is attributed to occupational noise or Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).

Hearing Awareness Week runs from Sunday March 3rd to Saturday March 9th — a good time to consider the health of you and your teams hearing. Hearing tests are mandatory if your workplace has noise levels exceeding the equivalent of 85dB(A) for a period of 8 hours. The National Foundation for the Deaf is behind Silent March – a fundraising initiative that your workplace can get behind. Click here to learn more

Our occupational health team offer hearing tests to support you in meeting your legal obligations, as well as looking after the health of your team. It is recommended that hearing tests be carried out annually to comply with the Approved Code of Practice for the Management of Noise in the Workplace. 

What is involved?

Employees undergo a 15 minute hearing test usually at your premises (or TriEx premises by arrangement). TriEx will take care of all future test scheduling and ensure that consents are obtained for a full statistical and informative report on results to be released to management.

Hearing tests include:

  • Assessment of the employees past and present noise history (includes recreational)
  • A physical assessment of the ear to look for medical cause
  • Pure tone audiometry over eight frequencies in both ears
  • Explanation of the results to the employee
  • Education on responsibility to protect
  • Assessment of their hearing protection to comply with your annual audit of PPE

The noise output of your workplace should also be monitored every 5 years — or sooner if plant and equipment is purchased or modified. Our Occupational Hygienists can also assist you with carrying out a workplace noise assessment.

To learn more about our occupational health services you can contact our team on 0800 487 439 or email enquiries@triex.co.nz