Aon Health Solutions award for managing health at work

shortlisted candidates for this year’s award for managing health at work have
reduced absenteeism, improved morale and made healthy changes in workplace

Occupational Health’s sister publication Personnel Today hosts an annual
awards scheme that recognises innovation and achievement in people management.

The award for managing health at work recognises organisations that have
been proactive in improving employee health.

The judge, Dr Noel McElearney, (see below) was looking for a clear
explanation of what action has been taken, who was involved, how and why.

All three shortlisted candidates have brought positive benefits to their

Category judge

BOXTEXT: Dr Noel McElearney is a
consultant occupational physician with a long track record in blue-chip
organisations. He has worked for Guinness, British Airways, the Wellcome
Foundation and Marks & Spencer.

He was appointed director of group health, safety and
environment at Scottish and Newcastle in 1999, holds fellowships of the
Faculties of Occupational Medicine of the Royal Colleges of Physicians in
London and Dublin, and has an MA in occupational health.

He is a past president of the Society of Occupational Medicine
and is chairman of its education panel.

Standard Life Healthcare

The 800 staff at Standard Life Healthcare’s offices in Guildford and
Stockport are becoming significantly healthier thanks to a raft of initiatives
put into place by the company’s 14-strong HR and OH department.

Since early 1999, the company, which is the UK’s fourth largest private
medical insurer, has been actively promoting the health and well-being of its
staff through initiatives such as coffee mornings and quarterly briefings. But
early last year it decided to up the ante by buying in an online assessment
tool from healthcare company Vielife for around £30,000 to £40,000.

"We have been the first company to use the scores, anonymised
obviously, to give us an aggregate look at the health of our company,"
explains head of HR Vince Mewett.

The tool looks at stress, sleep and nutritional and physical health. Staff were
encouraged to fill it in with incentives such as raffle tickets and prizes,
with 500 employees taking part in the first round.

"We found we had an index of 49 out of 100 which was about average. But
I felt we needed to get a higher score and one of the things that came out
clearly was that staff were concerned about their nutritional balance,"
says Mewett. In response, the company organised initiatives, including a health
fair and nutritional drop-in seminars where staff could have their weight,
height, body fat and body mass index checked.

The staff restaurant was overhauled, with more healthy food offered at lower
prices and poster campaigns promoted the "five a day" message on
fruit and vegetables. Employees were also given free water bottles to encourage
them to increase their water intake during the day.

After six months, at the end of 2002, the survey was carried out again and
the index had risen from 49 to 52 from 300 respondents. But of the 200 who had
taken part in the previous survey, the score had gone up to 54 and on
nutritional issues the score had gone up by 35 per cent.

Staff turnover at the Guildford office is now around 9 per cent and 6 per
cent at Stockport, having once been more than 20 per cent, although Mewett is
keen to stress this is not all down to the current programme.

The company has also started piloting on-site massage, with employees paying
£5 for a 20-minute session. The staff have implemented twice-weekly evening gym
sessions, with the company making a conference room available for their use.

Looking forward, Mewett is keen to encourage wider health and fitness
initiatives beyond simply subsidising gym membership, particularly where
initiatives could fit into the company’s corporate social responsibility
agenda. He would like to organise, for instance, a 10K run for charity or, for
the less energetic, a "corporate ramble". The company is also
planning to extend stress awareness training to a wider range of employees.

"This had much more of an occupational health angle to it than training
or personnel, and our health and safety people have been closely
involved," explains Mewett.

"We have just carried out a third survey and we are now up to 54
points, so we are continuing to improve. We sometimes bring round a cake trolley
and it’s interesting that we have to make sure we have more fruit on it now
because it’s more popular than the cake," adds Mewett.

Severn Trent Water

"Manual handling is our big
issue. We wanted to start out with, if you had a clean sheet, what would you
do?," says Neil Budworth, principal safety adviser with Severn Trent Water.

The organisation, with 4,500 staff and a huge network of pipes,
1,000 sewage and 20 water treatment works to manage and maintain, had
traditionally taught manual handling techniques in a classroom setting.
"But that is not what happens in reality," stresses Budworth.
"What happens is that you are in a hole covered in mud and it is slippery
and muddy. We recognised that we needed to do training on site," he

The solution, since September last year, has been to call in a
specialist team of "body mechanics" to look at the common situations
that cause injuries and then train people, on site, accordingly. "These
trainers are charismatic, and we have seen a dramatic drop in accidents,"
says Budworth.

Beforehand, the accident rate for manual handling incidents was
around 65 instances a year. Since the training began it has dropped to the low
30s. Overall, the company has made savings of £8,200 based on days lost in one
county over a six-month period.

To ensure people are constantly reminded about the training,
coaching and mentoring programmes have been put into place to observe and
refresh people at work.

Getting people back to work more quickly after an accident or
injury is also a priority. When an injury is reported, a supervisor triggers an
immediate referral process to the OH department, outsourced to contractor
Private Health Care. If appropriate, a referral to the physiotherapist is then

"The quicker they can be referred to a physio the better.
We make sure we can get people referred for backs, necks or whatever it is. We
do it even if it is not work-related because our view is that they will still
be off work and that does not help us," says Budworth.

One of the difficulties has been getting a consistent message
out to employees. "Their first thought is ‘how am I going to cover for
that person’, and they often forget to refer," he admits. Budworth makes a
point of speaking to line managers and supervisors whenever he can to reinforce
the message that proper support mechanisms are now in place.

There are also issues of trying to rehabilitate workers too
quickly or putting them back into the situation or working environment that
caused the injury in the first place, he stresses. "It’s about progressive
integration. It may be restricting what they can lift or what they can do. It’s
about taking things a few days at a time, but the important thing is that they
are still in the social loop. The OH department will make recommendations that
can be adopted by the line managers," argues Budworth.

Similarly, the organisation has now overhauled its buying
processes to ensure that if a piece of kit is being bought, it goes through a
panel that includes ergonomists. "They will assess anything new coming in.
How many people can lift it or should it only be lifted by mechanical lift, for
instance," Budworth explains.

As part of this, the company drafted in a masters student over
the summer to work out how best to lift manhole covers. "If they’re old or
dirty and have been driven over for years, they can be very difficult to lift.
But some of the kit for lifting them is heavier than the cover," he says.

Finally, the company has been looking closely at hand-arm
vibration syndrome. Traditionally HAVS was checked through verbal
questionnaires but this was hugely subjective and variable. After all, the
people answering the questions often felt their livelihood was at stake.

Now Severn Trent has bought in an electronic system that checks
the hands for any damage or loss of function. An HAVS clinic has also been
developed through Private Health Care.

West Bromwich Building Society

West Bromwich Building Society was
formed 154 years ago, making it one of the UK’s oldest building societies, and
the country’s ninth largest, with 800 staff in 51 branches.

It had offered staff private medical insurance for many years,
but again, its initiatives were often not well promoted and take-up was
generally low.

This changed with the arrival of people support officer Julie
Malpass three years ago, who decided to have a look at what benefits the
company offered and what could be done better in terms of staff health.

One of the first changes was the launch in early 2000 of a
health awareness programme, including promoting corporate membership of local
Fitness First and David Lloyd Leisure gyms.

A dedicated OH department of both GPs and nurses has also been
introduced, on a contract basis, carrying out medicals and, at a cost £2,500 a
year, flu vaccinations. Take-up of the vaccinations has been around 20 per cent
a year.

"We had so many e-mails about it that we have been able to
put forward a business case for doing it again this year. This will be the
fourth year running we have run it, and we had 90 responses in the first hour
and a half of publicising it," says Malpass.

Health assessments for height, weight, body mass, vision, lung
function and urine are carried out by a nurse in a mobile clinic.

Other initiatives included offering the services of an
alternative therapist, with staff paying around £7 for the first session and
£12 per half hour after that. "It is very, very popular. The therapist
offers aromatherapy, reflexology and Indian head massage. It is a bit of a
luxury being able to get a massage in your workplace, and it is fantastic as a
de-stressor," says Malpass.

The society also undertook a review of its sickness absence
procedures and policies, including making managers and employers much more
aware of the policy and how it worked and putting in better tracking and
monitoring systems.

"This was particularly important for newer managers who
had never dealt with these things before," explains Malpass. "While
we knew we would probably initially see an increase, because of improved
reporting, at least we knew people would have the tools to know how to report
absence. Most people, for instance, felt that if a doctor’s note had been
issued, they could not question it."

There was a particular focus on return-to-work interviews and
giving managers the skills to ask the right sort of questions when dealing over
the phone with employees who had called in sick.

Sickness absence at the firm had been running at around six
days per employee per year – around the industry average – but still the firm
felt it could be managing its absence and sickness better. Rates are now down
to fewer than four days a year.

To help tackle issues particularly surrounding stress, an
employee assistance programme has been introduced, including a counselling
helpline. The line takes some 11 calls a quarter, estimates Malpass. "But
even if you get just one call it’s worth it," she adds.

Just as important is making sure staff know of all the benefits
on offer. The office intranet as its main tool of communication in this area,
supplemented by e-mail alerts, newsletters and group magazines.

For the future, Malpass says she is keen to expand the
alternative therapist services on offer, and is looking to bring in a
chiropractor and alternative therapies. "We have just done a day’s trial
of sports massage. We have a cricket, football and netball team so there can be
a great deal of sporting injuries."

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