Good health is good for business

8 December 2016

By Dr Claire Dickinson, ORR Occupational Health Programme Manager

Claire Dickinson1+1=3, yes? Last month’s rail industry health and wellbeing conference brought together people from across the industry to promote effective health and wellbeing management within rail.   Several speakers acknowledged that health risk is too often the poor relation of health and safety within the rail industry and this must change.  An effective occupational health programme:

  • protects workers against work- related health risks;
  • ensures the fitness of workers to work safely; and
  • effectively reduces absence due to illness.

So, good health is good for business – just as good work is good for you!

ORR has a keen interest in seeing the rail sector “up its game” on managing and eliminating health risks; delivering a better balance of safety, health policies and wellbeing. We feel that effective leadership is key to this, as well as the delivery of the industry health strategy.    But, who and where does this leadership come from?  Companies that are delivering health management well are structured and organised to ensure co-ordination of health service providers, safety departments, HR, employee representatives, and hygienists so that all have the right amplitude of voice.   Managers need better training but it is strong leadership within each organisation, allied with each individual’s understanding of the part they have to play, that will lead to success.

Value for money

Dr Bridget Juniper spoke on getting value for money out of employee well-being and the five key criteria for success which focus on the evidence, workforce needs, business alignment, evaluation and a supportive culture.  Drawing on specific rail sector examples and some of the work from the RSSB Health Economics Group, she made the point that ultimately, better data and indicators on health lead to more effective targeting of where action is required.   The industry expects value for money from health management and an associated return on investment tool is one way of quantifying this.

That said, it is surprisingly tricky to procure the right sort of health services that meet the needs of the industry.   At the conference RSSB launched its Wise Buyer Guidance to help rail companies.    Successful delivery of an occupational health service is not only dependant on the provider of the services but also on the culture of the organisation who procures the service.  Whether in-house, out-sourced or a mixed delivery service, the guide provides the do’s and what not to do, ensuring the contract is managed to everyone’s benefit.

Dr Olivia Carlton, Chief Medical Officer Transport for London (TfL) gave an overview of the work of the TfL health team, including a new piece of work recently completed using the employee survey to gain a measure for each of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) management standards.  The overall measure is called the “Wellbeing at Work Index”.   TfL have an excellent record for measuring the impact and return on investment and shared how and where they have done this.

Focus on mental health and good communication

One in four of us will experience a mental health problem every year, but too many people with mental health problems are made to feel worthless or isolated.  That’s why it’s vital that we open up about mental health at an organisational, as well as personal level.  Sarah Restall from Time to Change introduced the important work this organisation is doing in the rail sector to end the stigma associated with mental health.  Sarah’s strong case studies revealed how effective engagement can make a huge difference.

Dr Steve Boorman of Empactis, reflecting on his 21 years as CMO for Royal Mail, drove home the message that managers need to do the right thing at the right time – but that they need training to manage health effectively.

Managers do not know what they should do and their efforts are compounded by poor communications
– Dr Steve Boorman

What’s next?

There is still scope for delivering a better balance of safety, health policies and wellbeing. The ORR will continue to work with the industry to improve this balance and ensure that the message gets out: Good health is also good business!

More information

Tools and good practice case studies are available from our website and those of partner organisations.