Businesses must support ‘health’ as much as ‘safety’

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In many organisations ‘safety’ dominates, and initiatives relating to health often fall by the wayside

Most organisations have health and safety policies and, as a manufacturing business, we take safety extremely seriously. We operate a programme called ‘Safe Systems of Work’ and since its introduction two years ago we have seen safety standards improve by 25% each year. However, in many organisations the reality is that ‘safety’ dominates these policies, and initiatives relating to employee physical and mental health often fall by the wayside. But at what cost?

According to the Health and Safety Executive 23.3 million working days were lost because of work-related ill health in 2014-15. This clearly has a negative effect on an individual’s quality of life, but it also has a wider impact on health services and the economy, with NHS England estimating that this costs employers and taxpayers around £22 billion a year.

Positive impact of a healthier workforce

Many organisations won’t hesitate to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on a new piece of equipment but when it comes to investing in staff – who really should be a company’s biggest asset – they fail to do so as things like health and fitness programmes are deemed to be too fluffy. Most HR professionals think differently, of course, but convincing the business can be an uphill struggle.

Supporting staff to introduce wellbeing schemes

At DS Smith one of our company values is to be caring and, while we have always been a kind organisation, it is only more recently that health and wellbeing have really come to the fore. For example, we’ve introduced a number of initiatives to try and encourage our staff to take a break from their work and to eat more healthily, including free fruit Fridays, making sure that there are healthy food choices in the canteens and introducing a policy where no-one can eat lunch at their desk.

We have also enrolled all 30 of our UK sites into Heart Research UK’s Health Heart Mark award programme which gives our employees the opportunity to have their blood pressure, cholesterol levels, BMI and waist measurements checked – this is in addition to the annual health check days we run. Employees have also introduced their own wellbeing schemes at a site level to encourage healthier lifestyles.

What I find most exciting about this is how different sites have started initiatives to suit their needs – and we now have everything from running and cycling clubs, to woodland walks, allotments and football teams.

Leading by example

The senior management team at DS Smith strives to lead by example. Last year I led a team of my colleagues in a charity challenge where we travelled from our European head office in Brussels to our group head office in London by bike, kayak and foot, raising money for Cancer Research and Heart Research UK.

But not every senior manager needs to embark on quite such an epic challenge to inspire their employees. I don’t eat at my desk and always try to get out for a walk at lunchtime, and hope that staff see me doing this and follow suit. Just doing one healthy action each week is a startt. I believe this has been so successful because the senior management team at DS Smith has fully bought into the health and wellbeing programmes that we are running. Everyone knows this is not a fad, it’s not something we will stop tomorrow – it’s part of our DNA.

Gareth Jenkins is managing director of DS Smith’s UK packaging division

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