Exactly how to maintain and improve workplace health is a tricky proposition but one which the University of Western Australia last year decided to tackle head-on.
Sean Ashton, manager of injury management and wellbeing, part of the Safety and Health Team of professional staff, led a charge to formally survey the university's 5000 mainly office workers.
His team analysed results from 1300 completed surveys looking at priorities for both academic and professional staff in the areas of physical health, nutrition, mental health, flexibility (muscular) and health generally.
Mr Ashton explained that the five key areas covered most risk factors for common chronic disease, with responses surprisingly representative of the total UWA staff demographic.
In developing the survey the team took into account the latest research on increasingly sedentary workplaces and results from similar but broader community health surveys.
"My area looks after injury management, workers' compensation and also provides assistance for people with non-work related injuries, and the whole concept of 'office health' is a growing space," he said.
"The aim of the survey was to use the results to develop a program
specifically to address and improve on the health priorities for our staff."
Mr Ashton admitted that coming up with strategies to satisfy all staff members was a daunting task.
"For some people improving health means a 5am boot camp, diet or other physical exercise, while for others it's something completely different," he explained.
"Tackling staff health is about targeting identified risks such as the root causes of injuries that lead to workers' compensation claims, lost work days and staff turnover."
Mr Ashton said the resulting Health and Wellbeing Program encompassed a range of strategies, including increased recreation offerings, training on how to look after the body while at work, mental health 'first aid' training for managers to better deal with staff with mental health conditions, as well as organisational and policy changes.
Attention was also paid to exactly how much poor office ergonomics "cost" the university - resulting in a program to fund 50 per cent of the purchase of new and improved seating or desks for people assessed by the ergonomics team.
Mr Ashton said UWA was home to a few sit/stand desks, provided a one-stop internet resource for best practice office ergonomics and devoted time to education to help staff build resilience and manage their busy workloads.
"We are trying to get on the front foot from a practical, organisational and structural point of view to help improve the health of staff overall," he said."It's not easy, and we're certainly not perfect, but we'll continue to do the best we can."
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