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The workplace can have a powerful impact on wider public health – Poots

With lifestyle choices contributing to a significant proportion of chronic diseases and cancer, the workplace is a key setting to influence the behaviour of our population.
Wednesday, 23 January 2013

This was the key message from Health Minister Edwin Poots as he addressed the Public Health Agency / Business in the Community Conference at the Island Civic Centre in Lisburn.

The Minister said: “Research evidence has demonstrated that work is generally good for both physical and mental health and wellbeing. However, if the work is not healthy, safe or if it does not offer the individual some influence over how work is done and a sense of self-worth, it can lead to ill-health and absenteeism.

“This can be detrimental to the business community as a whole, especially in this tough economic climate.

“For many of us, the workplace is where we spend much of our waking adult life. The geography, the people and indeed the work itself, can all have a huge impact - both positive and negative - on our physical and mental health and wellbeing.

“In turn, this can have an impact on our home life, family and eventually our demands on the health service.”

The Minister continued: “A purely economic view of the issue provides some stark messages. In April 2011, a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that absenteeism is costing British businesses up to £32billion every year.

“The report also highlighted that UK workers annually have an average of 10 days unscheduled absence, on a par with the rest of Western Europe but around twice that of their counterparts in the US and Asia-Pacific region.

“It is therefore important to highlight that although much headway has been made by businesses in tackling poor mental health, obesity in the workplace and the impact of good health on the economy, more needs to be done.”

Addressing the topic of work and the importance of health and well-being, Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “Work is a fundamental part of all of our lives. It gives us a sense of belonging and provides a purpose. Work gives us status and helps us realise our full potential. It provides opportunities for social interaction and of course an income.

“There is much to be done to improve the health of our people and I am confident that our workplaces will continue to help address many of our preventable health risks such as obesity, with more than half of adults obese or overweight, smoking - currently 25% of our population smoke, the ongoing issue of binge drinking and the 2% of our young people who drink every day.”

Notes to editors:

1. BITC NI is part of the national organisation operating in 11 regions across the UK. Currently over 800 companies are in membership nationally including more than 65% of the FTSE 100. In Northern Ireland, BITC has almost 250 businesses as members.

2. BITC works directly with business to establish ‘best practice’ for planning effective wellbeing and engagement programmes by linking wellbeing to wider employee engagement and organisational objectives, making it a strong contributing factor to long-term sustainability for any business.

3. This is reflected in the WHO recommendations around workplace as a setting for promoting health and wellbeing.

4. The Health Promotion Agency (HPA) had provided a Workwell workplace health online assessment tool for employers. This questionnaire based tool was used to capture employee’s views across a range of health related behaviours and provided automatic feedback for both employee and employer as part of the legacy Workwell programme.

5. The Public Health Agency (PHA) have recently revised the online tool (Which will be available from February 2013) to support the World Health Organisation (WHO) approach which stresses the need to assess the health and wellbeing needs of employees and develop actions based on the needs assessment using a continual improvement approach.

6. Media queries to DHSSPS Press Office on 02890 520505. Out of office hours contact the Duty Press Office via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.