Worker Health as a Workplace Management Issue: New Guidelines for Companies

October 29, 2015
  • Maria Pontes

    Former Manager, BSR

“They know what to do.”

That’s the typical answer when you ask factory managers about whether they spend time managing the nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers in their infirmaries. In reality, factory health staff often do not know what to do, and managers also lack the knowledge needed to oversee health functions.

While businesses tend to view worker health through the lens of occupational health and safety compliance, companies should rather address this issue through the lens of workplace management. Worker health is more than a box to be checked, and proactive management can result in significant return-on-investments, improving both workers’ well-being and the bottom line.

To address this challenge, the Evidence Project/RAISE Health, in partnership with HERproject, released a new tool this week to help workplaces improve their onsite health services. The Workplace Health Facility Guidelines and Management Benchmarks address three areas essential to a properly functioning health service: infirmary-level good practices, management systems and oversight, and company leadership.

The guidelines offer supplier management teams, multinational corporations, and their partners a roadmap for continual improvement of workplace health functions over time, and they take worker health out of the cat-and-mouse game of compliance. Companies will find practical, actionable guidance to help them change how they think about workplace health services in less developed countries and manage a strategic resource—their healthcare teams.

The guidelines are based on RAISE Health and BSR’s more than 10 years of research and experience in workplace programs. HERproject has demonstrated the benefits of women’s health and health education at the workplace, including a return on investment study in Egypt that estimated a US$4 return for each US$1 spent on women’s health education. Additionally, BSR has identified the enormous potential of workplace-based nurses and onsite clinics to bridge gaps in access to healthcare services and products, especially for low-income and women workers in global supply chains.

The guidelines also build on important international efforts to broaden business’ approach to worker and women’s health, including the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles and the World Health Organization’s Healthy Workplaces model. They are also relevant to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  

Workplace health that goes beyond occupational health and safety has often been a blind spot for global supply chain management.  Occupational health norms focus more on inputs (number of nurses or availability of first aid kits) and safety issues (use of protective clothing), not on the quality of health services and practices of healthcare teams. Through their daily routines, workplace health providers can do much more to educate workers, promote healthier behaviors, and provide needed services or referrals to quality services in the community. For women workers in particular, this focus must include appropriate responses to their specific needs, such as reproductive health services.

Implementing accepted good health practices in most aspects requires basic management skills, not a medical degree. The guidelines provide factory managers the wherewithal to oversee workplace health functions and define the expectations for health providers—with minimal cost and potentially high returns. Companies will see greater financial returns and workers, greater health benefits, as workplace health shifts from largely curative care—treating injuries or occupational illnesses—to preventative care. This shift reflects both good healthcare and good business.

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