Managing white collar ailments at work

What are the most prevalent health issues for office staff and what can HR do to prevent these risks in the workplace?

Managing white collar ailments at work
Among professional office jobs, workers experience a number of health concerns including stress and other diseases, said Bernard Thio, medical director of occupational health and safety at Fullerton Healthcare Group in Singapore.
“Apart from operational stress, employees are at risk of work-related disorders particularly with regards to the hands and elbows,” he said.
To counter these negative health effects, an occupational medicine strategy encompassing education and prevention should be created. For instance, warnings can be given about sitting down for lengthy stretches of time.
“Many jobs today involve sitting for long periods and that’s a real issue,” said Thio. “Ideally, we should work for one hour and have three or four minutes of stretching. Instead, we work for three or four hours at a stretch. There’s no work-rest balance.”
Encouraging employees to have a healthier lifestyle in the workplace should also involve education about sleep and exercise. As well as working out three times a week, staff should be urged to have adequate rest.
“The average person needs six to eight hours of sleep per night. Of course, disturbed sleep is no good,” he said.
Sleep hygiene was another term employers should educate staff about, Thio added.
“Basically, the bed is meant for sleep. However in today’s society we use it to eat, do work, etc. We have to train ourselves that when we go to bed that it’s only for sleeping.”
HR and senior management plays an important role in fitness production within the workplace, he said. In addition to health talks and screenings, HR can try and address some of these issues with experts such as industrial hygienists and human factor engineers.
If an employee already suffers from observational stress or ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome, staff should be trained to pick up on the outward symptoms in their colleagues.
“They can then sense when something is not quite right,” Thio said.
“One case I saw involved a worker who was staring at her screen for an hour without clicking anything. Another employee saw this and notified management. It turned out she had severe stress because of a change in supervisor. She was frozen and couldn’t cope.”
The affected worker was treated with the employer eventually reducing her load as a result of the intervention.
Having people who are observational enough is vital to any workplace, he said.
“In my experience, try to have a relationship with people. In this day and age we are not dealing with a taskmaster type scenario but have a responsive, mature hierarchy. In these setting, invariably someone will see something and say something.”

Further information about managing white-collar ailments will be offered at the Singapore Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Conference from 24–25 August 2016 at Suntec Singapore.
Related stories:
How to get CEO buy-in for workplace health programs
Bootcamps to massage: How SAP tackles staff health
Study finds link between workplace fairness and staff health

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