Improving health reduces injury rates

Sanitarium recognises that a worker’s health can impact on safety at work. They provide comprehensive health programmes for its ageing workforce. The aim is to reduce injury rates, but other benefits include better staff retention and productivity.

[Image] sanitarium logo

120 people work at the company’s dry cereal factory in Royal Oak, Auckland – mostly as manual packers on food production lines.

Health and Safety Officer Karen Daniels said many have some kind of health issue, including age-related conditions like arthritis.

This leads to mobility-related risk, such as the potential for people to collapse onto, or not be able to move away from fast enough, moving machinery.

Sanitarium addresses this risk through ongoing initiatives and one-on-one programmes including a Return to Work package. Workers manage their conditions and return to work, with support from medical professionals and occupational therapists.

Karen said a number of staff have been with the company for decades, including some who are over retirement age.

“We have very loyal and experienced staff, including many who want to keep on working past retirement age and we work with them to accommodate that.” 

Karen launched the Return to Work programme nine years ago, to support workers who are off work due to conditions like arthritis, in getting well enough to return to their usual duties.

“We hold fortnightly meetings with them and work with them, our doctors and occupational therapists. We discuss issues like finance, how long they plan to continue to work, if they would prefer to work reduced hours, and put together a personal plan.

“For instance, one lady has chronic arthritis in her arm and shoulder. Through the programme, she was referred to a physiotherapist and to a personal trainer at our gym.

“She is now back to her usual packing duties and managing her condition very well with medication and exercise. Supervisors and colleagues are also supportive. She has an automated system that does packing. If the system shuts down for any reason, everyone on the shift knows she should not be under any pressure to do the work manually.”

The factory provides an on site subsidised gym, health coaches, and exercise sessions for all levels of fitness and ability, aimed at improving mobility and physical resilience. Work time workshops address issues such as managing stress and fatigue.

The company provides annual health checks and ongoing opportunities for all staff to seek medical advice or raise any health concerns. It also works with two local doctors and a nurse, who visit the factory weekly.

“Because of the approach we take, people are more likely to be open with us if they have a physical or mental health issue so we can help them address that before it gets worse,” said Karen.

“We have a health provider and they will put an individual plan together for them and match them with the appropriate health coach for their needs. It could be to address weight loss, nutrition, stress or other conditions.”

Sanitarium is also addressing risks at source, introducing technology to reduce manual lifting.

“The key thing is support,” said Karen. “It isn’t enough to just give people information. You have to provide the environment where people want to participate.

“The benefit for our people is they are less likely to be injured at work.  But they are also more likely to remain employed and feel better, and happy healthy workers are more productive. The benefit for us is that we retain loyal and experienced staff, with less absenteeism and other costs due to injuries. The extra effort is more than worth it.”