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SIA Conference Paper Summary - October 3 2002 < Back to Publications Index

Stream: Wellness Program
Tuesday the 16th of April
Session Title:
Making Wellness Programs Work
David McKelvie, National Safety Manager CSR Humes

Wellness Program definition.

Wellness programs should be targeted at improving all employees physical and mental well-being with a primary objective of improving and sustaining the Safety, Quality and Productivity of the workplace.

One off Manual Handling Type workshops for employees not always effective.

How many of you, the audience, have been taught or have taught others to lift a square cardboard box close to your body, with your back straight, whilst bending your knees, to raise the 500 gram box to a suitable height?

How many of you have wondered or been questioned about the effectiveness of this training technique?

How many of you have compared this "modelling of a work practice" to that of a real work practice?

How many of you have replied, it is not the practice but the process that counts?

This is not disapproving of training workers in "the correct methods of lifting", as this training is a necessary part of any OHS program.

This is challenging the objectivity of such training!

Like everything else, we must question why are we doing it, how will we do it, what perceptions we could create along the way and what results do we expect?

Slipping back into Workplace Practices

So often workers, especially younger or newer workers, liberated of normal duties for an afternoon in a training session, enthused by the atmosphere of learning, and witnessing managers heart felt pledges to a Safe Workplace, return to the production line the next day to find the group, who were very quiet and compliant during the training session, having a good giggle at the inappropriateness of it all.

"This will never work mate."

"How can we achieve production while we lift like that."

"The box we lifted yesterday feels nothing like the oxy bottle I've got to swing up onto that platform today."

Some employees will tend to use the skills taught for a few days, then slip back into practices that they have developed over a long time.

This "slip back" is due to several different barriers they face, which should have been previously identified if successful implementation is the objective of the training.

How it Has to be, the Barriers to Change

When considering "how it has to be" we need to closely look at the culture of the workplace, why and how it grew to accept this cynical approach that is perceived by the workforce as realism.

Workplace culture, which is really the team of people you work with, what you do, how you do it, and the environment you do it in, can differ dramatically depending on the history, location and industry of your workplace, to name a few variables.

Realism, as described in the Collins Australian Pocket English Dictionary is "a tendency to face facts and be practical".

The facts as perceived by some workplaces may be:

  • That the productivity of the operation is our first priority
  • What we really do is nothing like the training and procedures provided
  • The strong bodied & tough minded will survive and cope with the demands of the job
  • Management want to know about all injuries but are awfully upset when they find out
  • That the supervisor doesn't really believe it is possible to make production tallies whilst we work in such a careful and planned manner
  • The unwritten ground rules, supported by site culture, have a powerful influence over the way we work.

The history that created these perceived facts could be as follows:

  • For years now we have gone about ensuring high productivity levels, whilst ignoring known risks and relying on Fate, Luck and Chance for our personal safety
  • A lot of workers have coped with this job in the past, haven't complained and in many cases have absorbed quietly, or gallantly heralded, the pain and discomfort of degenerative injuries
  • Whenever there is an injury, the amount of paperwork enforced on the manager and supervisor is obviously regarded by them as a barrier to doing what they think they should really be doing, and often blame is directed at the worker or his supervisor being labelled careless, or worse, incompetent. These behaviours are generally observed by all within that work group
  • Workers may perceive in workplace environments, where the conditions are poor but safety is said to be important, that management must see Safety as the worker's responsibility, not a responsibility shared by all
  • The supervisor, the bearing in the sea-saw, is coping with all these chaotic beliefs and behaviours and can easily swing either way, which obviously is carefully noted by the workers.
These barriers are challenging and take identification, planned effort and commitment, supported by time, to conquer.

Wellness programs often focus on teams in workplace situations and don't always get the buy in required by individual employees

All workplaces share one common characteristic, the variation in the physical and mental well-being of individual employees in those workplaces.

They also share one common outcome, the effect that the "wellbeing" has on the Safety of the people in the workplace, as well as quality of product or service offered.

Wellness programs should be targeted at improving an employee's physical and mental well-being, therefore being more in "control of their own lives".

Whether or not the individual is in control of his or her own life, depends very much on that individual's attitude.

Being "in control" is about taking personal responsibility.

For many years management have created a culture of dependence. The supervisor is accountable to management for the workforce's output, he or she informs them when to start, when to finish, what tasks they will do and by when, trains them in how they will do such, disciplines when outcomes are not satisfactory, praises when outcomes are. Workers become dependent on the supervisor to know what is expected of them. If they meet this expectation, their wellbeing is satisfied.

A culture of dependence does not always encourage an individual to take on personal responsibility.

Wellness Programs that do not take a more focussed and personal approach to the attitudes of all individuals must certainly reduce their chance of success.

Individuals need to have the knowledge that they have the ability to be in control of their own attitudes, therefore their behaviours, therefore their results.

Wellness programs must have a very focused approach, from the original introduction to the implementation, so as to conquer the massive barriers to change found in a workplace.

Should we run the program for teams or individuals?

Should we include management or exclude them?

Teams or Individuals

Teams are all the Management Talk these days, get the team working together on shared objectives, and what an effective way to achieve the goals.

This is true as long as all members Share the Objective.

How do we arrange that?

Sharing the objective is fairly straight forward if it is about making 500 tonnes of pre cast concrete products this month, or winning Saturday's game of football.

But it becomes very individual though, if it is about improving your diet, learning to relax, engaging in more physical activity, general Wellness stuff.

These are individual issues being slotted into a group formation for the sake of efficiency, cost and convenience.

Will this meet the objective or does this become another Barrier?

Management or Workers

Too many programs in the past have been directed immediately at the workers.
Management know that it is the workers who are being injured, so they also know that it is the workers who need the training.

Management know that directing the training solely at the workers can make the biggest impact. Do they know that by doing such they can also lose that impact?
Management involvement is not just about the good bloke at the back, saying a few introductory words and showing un-challenged but dedicated support.

Management Involvement is about simply that, Involvement, being part of it, understanding the issues as the workers do, challenging the barriers and reaping the personal benefits as the workers do. This intimate knowledge actually assists in building lasting relationships that support making effective decisions.

It is also a leveller, placing everyone on the same rung of the ladder. A senior manager who does not manage his/her own Wellness can display behaviour that has a great effect on others within the workplace. No matter what our position is within the organisational hierarchy, we either manage our own personal Wellness, or we don't, when dealing with personal or individual type issues such as your own wellbeing. However, in a workplace situation, it can be perceived as discriminatory or even elitism if some are not involved, especially the decision makers.

Programs in the workplace that strive to achieve an objective of "Wellness" will consider the requirements of each individual first. When we say each individual, that means everyone who resides in that workplace, or is a regular part of the operational function of that workplace.

Attitude, the Fighting Front of Barriers to Change

Attitude is one major barrier to change!
Attitude is one major barrier to being in control of your life!

What is attitude?

I like to describe attitude as a collection of individual beliefs, formed within your unconscious mind, from the impressions you have absorbed during your lifetime of exposure and experience.

Can attitude be directly linked to and reinforced by workplace culture?

Attitudes are linked to and reinforced by your family, your childhood, your education, your friends and every other experience you have had.

Generally your workplace experience is one of the most time consuming experiences you have in your adult life.

Attitudes are also individual, they are yours, no one can take them away. Others certainly may be able to influence your attitudes, but only at your will.

Do we have the ability to CHANGE other people's attitudes to whatever we think they should be? I would suggest not.

Do we have the ability to INFLUENCE attitudes? I suggest we already do that, either intentionally, or unintentionally.

I know of two workable approaches that are used to create Attitude Change. Any effective Wellness program would utilise both.

First is the Behavioural approach. If we force and ensure that everyday all employees are involved in Wellness Activities, eventually, after quite a period of time, some of those employees will actually realise some of the benefits and their attitude to their own personal Wellness may become more positive and focussed. They may even pursue these activities on leaving the workplace to another, or attempt to influence other family members, friends and so on.

Other employees may be quite resentful that they are being told what to do and how to do it, in regard to personal issues. Their attitude towards management and the overall workplace may become more negative.

Programs that focus on behavioural change are spending their time working on an effect, not a cause, and in a team environment this even lessens their chances of success.

Let us consider some questions in regard to behavioural based programs that may influence attitudes?

  • How do individual workers feel when management introduce a mandatory "behavioural" change program directed at employees only?
  • Do all workers believe they can sustain these behavioural changes in either their work or out of work environments?
  • Do all workers really feel comfortable exposing their physical ability and presence in a group situation?
  • Could it be that some of the above "questions" may lead to outcomes of Conflict, the step prior to Stress, which opens our exposure to fatigue related accidents?

Another approach to attitude is the Cognitive Approach, utilising the mechanical mental process of Think, Feel, Behave, Result.

The Cognitive process of Thinking, Feeling, Behaviour and Results, requires a level of understanding by all people within the work environment and requires a greater personal (but not necessarily time) commitment by management.

What we think, how we feel about our surrounds, and ourselves has a lot to do with how we behave, and how we behave generally determines the results we achieve.

The Cognitive approach is not about enforcement of Behaviours. It is about Provision of Information.

On receipt of this information, you may start to "Think" about it, if that "Thought" makes you feel good, or bad, you will behave accordingly to manage/control the Thought and the effect it has on you.

This behaviour (result) generally has a lot to do with your own self worth or self esteem.

For example:
An overweight factory worker is informed by his supervisor that he has to attend the new Wellness Program each morning, no choice, and he is going to be doing Star Jumps and Bush Ballet with the rest of the Guys, and he is going to love it and lose weight.

On receipt of this info he Thinks about it.

He knows he can't jump, never could, he knows he is awkward and clumsy, the butt of his brother's jokes as a boy, and he tried to lose weight several times to no avail. Even his teenage daughters have a laugh on his physical behalf during the warmer months.

He is thinking about all of these issues he has lived with and the pressure of confronting them again, and this time amongst his workmates. This makes him feel quite poorly and feels he has failed before he has even started.

What sort of behaviour is he going to display, would it be some sort of defence mechanism?

Defense mechanisms are normally unconscious attempts at adjustment.

They are the unconscious attempts of the individual to protect themselves against threats to the ego and to relieve the tensions and anxieties from unresolved frustration and conflict.

There is a wide range of Defence Mechanism type behaviour including Regression, Displacement, Projection and Denial. They can have a real impact on the well-being of the individual and others he/she works or socialises with.

  • Regression (return to an earlier and less mature level of adaptation, involving less mature responses and usually lower levels of aspirations)
  • Displacement (where pent up ideas, emotions, are redirected towards ideas, objects or persons other than the primary cause of emotion)
  • Projection (the mechanism where the individual protects himself from awareness of his own undesirable traits or feelings by attributing them to others)
  • Denial (where an individual avoids painful or anxiety producing reality by unconsciously denying that it exists or refuses to face it, evidenced often by escapist activities or by being pre-occupied with other things).
So the supervisor started off introducing a Wellness Program and has in actual fact unknowingly created an onset of very much Un-wellness.

The supervisor's chance of successfully introducing this Wellness Program, could have improved dramatically with a totally different approach.

His next effort will have to be really effective as the "How it Has to Be" barriers are from workplace culture and are already forged in place. He now has to deal with Personal Barriers as well.

If the Cognitive process is thought through carefully, it will become clear to the thinker that attitudes are a major barrier and that these attitudes have evolved over the person's lifetime.

Utilising a personal approach, the first stage and different stages throughout the program, allow some of those Barriers to be identified, understood, and maybe even removed, in a discreet manner.

A team based behavioural approach, which can support but not initiate personal behavioural change, may become effective at a later date once these Barriers are overcome.

Effective and Practical programs that support and enhance Wellness in the Workplace
One effective method of Tackling Wellness in the Workplace is to introduce a program that assists, as well as other things, in the management of personal stress in a private and confidential manner.

Personal Stress when not controlled is a primary barrier to personal Wellness.
The results of not managing personal stress can range from irrational and defensive behaviour, poor self esteem, depression, mental and physical fatigue, substance or alcohol abuse, all supporting a general decline towards Illness.

Can we realistically take on a Wellness Program without dealing with this.
Stress Management and Self Esteem development needs to be the first stage of any effective Wellness program.

CSR Construction Materials have used a training program registered with the National Training Register and known as the "Advanced Safety and Quality awareness" (ASQA).

This program is a self-management program that enhances and coaches Personal and Professional Development with the objective of Reducing Accident and Injury Risk.
The program commences with an ARM (Accident Risk Management) profile that is a personal survey and provides a measure of the workers Attitude towards his or her

  • Safety Control
  • Risk Avoidance
  • Stress Tolerance
  • Professional Drivers Attitude
  • Professional Quality Attitude
On completion of the profile, a debrief with the facilitator takes places to explain results to the participant. These results are confidential and it is the participant's choice as to whether he/she shares them with others.

A Safety Workshop day is held where all site participants are brought together to gain an understanding of why accidents happen, which lays the foundation for attitudinal change, looking at personal responsibilities and self esteem issues.

The workshop training units address each of the 5 scales. All the units are interactive and participants build a self image profile of safety awareness.

The final unit brings the day's activities and concepts together in the formulation and commitment of an Action Plan. The plan stimulates a greater awareness of current safety attitudes, professionalism and quality. Most importantly it encourages and supports a willingness to accept a greater responsibility.

Over the next few months two more ARM profiles and de-briefs will take place to measure and assess improvement along with supplementary information such as CD's and Literature to provided a continual reinforcement of the learnings.

The real output from the ASQA is the improvement in Self Esteem amongst participants, discovering that they, like other Winners they have observed in the past, do have the ability to take control of their own lives and not be dependent on Fate, Luck and Chance.

With workers and management both in this state of mind, a Wellness program introduced in the right way now becomes an attractive proposition.

CSR Construction Materials have enlisted a Workplace Health Consultancy to assist in delivering a Wellness Culture to one of our Workplaces.

The Key Features of the Program are as follows:
A total Lifestyle approach - to encourage safe work practices that would enable employees to enjoy the other facets of their lives. To be aware of safe manual handling practices at Home and at Work

Effective Behaviour change - delivering the same information to each employee in the same way as we have already discussed does not provide for effective Behaviour Change. A sound understanding of the different stages in behaviour change principles is an integral part of the program. An individual approach to employees to consider their stage of Behaviour change will effectively support progression to the next stage.

Compliance - after agreement is reached on the safe work practices to be used in the Workplace, a level of compliance needs to be measured and if found to be lacking, needs to be understood why.

Tailored - the program needs to be tailored to suit the operational logistics of the specific workplace, in order to minimise disruptions to work schedules and to maximise results.

The Objectives of the program include a Total Lifestyle approach targeting:

  • Manual handling solutions
  • Injury reduction and management
  • Lifestyle management, fatigue and sleep issues, nutrition, exercise
  • Group culture, support and morale.
The components the Program are as follows:
  • Initial Site Visit - communication and behaviour change training for managers and team leaders, program design and agreement thereto
  • Workshops - with all employees, outline program, create awareness of issues, discuss voluntary aspect of lifestyle approach and compliance with agreed safe work practices, awareness of possible impact of manual handling type injuries and some immediate solutions
  • On site follow up - different manual handling issues explored and general health issues delivered in tool box talks fortnightly, personal discussion with each participant in their work areas weekly
    Strength and Flexibility Testing - specific to individual, conducted privately and results maintained confidentially
  • Manual handling Intervention - motion analysis software considering body mechanics/workposture appraisals, used in workshops and individual feedback, Work task Photographs of correct work practices on all notice boards, specific injury management advice to individuals on an as need basis
  • Lifestyle management Interventions - Monthly newsletters re Lifestyle matters, Monthly Health theme Packs-linked to Health Smart topic for each individual/ Monthly Toilet Talk Poster, Health Smart Workshops on a variety of topics which impact personnel and work productivity
  • Competitions and re testing of Flexibility and Abdominal bracing, promotions and incentives to maximise effective behaviour change, compliance, fun and long term effective change, regular re testing of strength, flexibility, body, mechanics/posture
  • Monthly reporting outlining program progress and results achieved
In summary to Make Wellness Programs work
  • Gain and understanding of why are we doing this, what are our requirements, agreed program objectives by management and the Safety Representative Team
  • Consider all Barriers we may face, being workplace culture, personal attitudes, religious and ethnic beliefs, physical capabilities and develop a plan to manage these barriers as best as possible
  • Introduce a Self Development Program, focussing on attitudes, enabling people to understand their ability to control their lives, involve all on site
  • Introduce the program in a non-threatening manner, emphasise that it is individually focussed and apart form work practice compliance, the rest is voluntary.
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