The ‘Health’ in safety and the ‘safety’ in health

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Health and wellbeing – an essential employee and employer benefit

We know there are around 131 million days lost due to ill health and an estimated £9 billion spent on illness and associated costs at work. It’s staggering. We know that MSK –musculoskeletal – issues (31 million days lost)  is the top health at work issue followed by colds (27 million days lost) and stress, anxiety or depression (15 million days lost). Source: Public Health England.

We know the emerging trends. On average over 7 hours is spent sat down (including driving to and from work) with the USA National library of medicine suggesting over 8 hours in its study. Being sedentary is a threat. MSK and stress feed off the prolonged time we spend sat down, often under pressure.


Just like improving work practices, office ergonomics, RIDDOR protocols and so forth, wellbeing deserves the same focus. It’s the elephant in the room, the darkening shadow, the intangible becoming the tangible. The statistics reveal its sinister intentions.

Working lives are busy. Time is a precious commodity. Exercise is the chore, but regular movement is key to combatting some of these statistics. Public Health England’s campaign is about movement. Active 10 is just that. Packaging walking into a 10 minute window. There is a free website for any organisation to utilise full of free resources, facts and top tips on healthy workplaces. active 10


Forget gyms and marathons. Think stairs, using the toilet on the top floor, an active commute or getting up and walking to your colleague’s desk instead of using the phone or instant message facilities. It arguably has more benefits in small regular movement patterns than that one gym session with no movement for the rest of the day.

And lets not forget the talent war currently on in Germany’s ‘Silver Economy, where blue chip business such as EON and Daimler are using H&W to lever employee loyalty and look after their employees. Not to mention the benefits of being active and having access to a H&W programme in terms of keeping people in work longer and mitigating some of the potential issues of a rapidly ageing workforce,

So not only is Health and Wellbeing transcending HR policy, H&S and Pay and benefits it is seen as a vehicle to remain competitive and aid communication. Lets be honest corporate fitness challenges such as running and obstacle courses are the new ‘GOLF COURSE’ in terms of networking, collaboration and business deals.#

Japan is another economy heavily reliant on an ageing workforce and to help manage that the office environment oozes movement with a movement based start to the day and regular breaks. They value that the human body responds to movement well so promote it. In the UK we have normalised sitting and removed movement from our lives. Although the evidence base is quickly gaining momentum to reverse that trend.


Public health has struggled for years to convince the Nation to lead healthier lifestyles – with some spectacular failures. Seen as though we spend 35% (of our waking lives over a 50 year lifespan) at work it offers the perfect vehicle to instigate culture change.

Breaking the ‘it’s how we do things around here’ attitude and turning it toward a more proactive health and wellbeing approach is one such solution to turning the tide on the elephant in the room. The ‘safety’ of knowing we are tackling poor health at work is yet another key component of the preventative levers that span across the health and safety, HR an Pay and benefits agenda.

I am qualified to coach running and resistance exercise, and do this in some workplaces, but really the BIG TICKET stuff to culture change isn’t the exercise classes and even onsite gym (although both are beneficial).

The big ticket items are normalising activity (re in Japan movement takes place in the office not a gym environment). No one bats an eyelid. Its as normal as brushing your teeth a habitual activity.  Why gyms don’t always work


And in today’s world of social media madness quirkiness plays its part in employee engagement. Stair use instead of the lifts, regular walking breaks and walking meetings are all a great way to enthuse staff and encourage movement – forget the gym in this instance.


Or gamifying movement can help people to stay motivated and instigate long term behavioural change. See our shopping centre trial earlier in year at Meadowhall – Sheffield. Meadowhall fitness sensors



What we can conclude is that Health and Wellbeing is a safety measure beyond enforcement, but activating a strategy to keep business safe from high ill health rates, protecting employees, attracting the best talent, been an innovator and thus gaining that competitive edge. Why wouldn’t you nurture that?

For all health and wellbeing strategy, delivery and evaluation contact me at



Andrew Picken

Health and Wellbeing Consultant

National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine (Sheffield)





Twitter: @AJPConsultant

Facebook: manbeast28 / Healthinbusiness28

Health at work is lame, evidence presented by the ‘Dame’ – Carol Black


Dame Carol Black said it in her own words ‘ do not ignore the fact mental health and physical activity are intimately interwoven’. This was at Tuesday’s seminar in Manchester with Nuffield Health and Vitality. They launched their partnership where she spoke passionately on the importance, not enforcement, of the health and wellbeing function in business.


James Murray MD of Vitality and Nuffield; Healthy workplace opened the event and spoke about the metrics of the Vitality platform to monitoring health and wellbeing, whilst Shaun Subel, the Director of Strategy at Vitality Health, gave an overview of analytics and insights into the ROI and business case for H&W.

I have a lot of experience in health in the workplace but Carol’s presentation was powerful. In my eyes Carol is the guru of health in the workplace after writing her paper on the subject nearly 10 years ago – we need to keep driving the business case for Health and wellbeing forward.

That report is the driving force behind the momentum health and wellness has gained over the last few years in the acknowledgement of the new way we work and the implications of how we have removed movement from our lives being one of the issues. And that movement, outdoor exposure and resulting chemical changes from exercise is becoming a key force in managing not just our physical health but managing mental health conditions too.

Indeed such is the correlation between mental and physical health, and the resulting benefits of exposure to natural environments whilst exercising, the notion of everyday movement is a key milestone in the way we approach patient centred care. How do we meaningfully impact on modifiable behaviours to mitigate the risk of conditions, mental and physical, which we have the lifestyle tools to provide solutions. And by addressing these factors Employers can control, to some extent, the impact on their business from ill health.

In essence the bottom line of this scenario is how do we reduce GP visits and entry points into the National Health Service to treat conditions that potentially can be prevented with proactive initiatives concerning public health. Based on a 50 year working life, 35% of our total waking hours (on the basis of 8 hours sleep) is at work. Therefore work is pivotal in its influence to provide opportunities to manage our health.


Think depression, diabetes, obesity, MSK, and how we can offset often chaotic and fast paced lives with the need to balance and limit exposure to pressure through exercise, the social benefits of collective exercise, valued employees, time away from the desk, limits on technology use and that all important past time ‘just being outside’. Green is the new clean…clean up our lives. Back to basics – call it what you want, that walk holds far more value than just the benefits of exercise.

Another great statement from Carol was around the feelings of staff who feel they are valued, invested in and cared about by their Employer and line manager. That vibe if you like, a hard to measure by-product of feeling valued is of huge benefit to HR. Talent recruitment and staff retention. A health and wellbeing policy and programme that’s consistent, relevant and engaging is the tool to create this feeling. Incentives key to employee involvement.


Fact: valued employees are more loyal. When I feel valued and I recognise the company benefits available to me it sticks with me. I work harder for the business. I want to feel I deserve that value by proving my worth. In essence as humans we reciprocate – we essentially respond to a gesture or action with a corresponding one. In a work context this is usually high quality work and a dedication to the duties of the role.

Health and wellbeing opportunities in business stimulate reciprocation. The workforce will generally respond. Not only that but ‘word of mouth’ marketing by employees – keen to tell their family and social networks about their company benefits which is a self-propelled brand promotion exercise. Free!

But much more than that H&W is that pro-active mechanism that minimises business risk and ill health in an ageing workforce by recognising the plethora of information we have on the state of play and designing interventions to impact those statistics positiviely.

We are living longer. Our retirement age is older. MSK still poses a serious risk in our ‘sit down do nothing culture’. For example when we sit we exert 40% more pressure on our spine than standing. When we are slouching its over double the pressure at 90% more force than standing on the spine.


If that isn’t a reason to move more I don’t know what is. Then there is mental health, that dark shadow at the back of the room costing the economy the largest amount of money ££££ in terms of duration of absences and returning to work.

Carol likes the word outcomes. Maybe originating from her clinical background but the term is highly relevant in health and wellbeing formulation and strategy. I like it. Input = deliverables / initiatives (behaviour change principles), output (results of intervention e.g. attendances / engagement levels), and outcome (reduced injuries / improved productivity / reduced absenteeism rates).


The metrics we use to analyse these health behaviours are getting better – technology playing a huge part in monitoring our behaviours to track present actions and encourage corrective actions.

But still underpinning all this is the boardroom. The steer of culture, the engine room of processes and the decision maker that effects the workforce. A clear belief in the value of H&W at this level and the corresponding investment will help harness the experience and knowledge of an ageing workforce, with the balance to manage and sustain ‘in work’ strategies. The future of business is bright.

I work for the NCSEM – as part of Move More Sheffield  – to achieve the City wide vision to get Sheffield the most active City in the UK by 2020 and also consult with B.Braun Medical on Employee Health and Wellbeing

Andrew Picken

Health and Wellbeing Consultant

National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine (Sheffield)





Twitter: @AJPConsultant

Facebook: manbeast28 / Healthinbusiness28

Business Wise – On Exercise

Knees up to Health and Wellbeing in business.


I attended a seminar at B.Braun Medical Ltd where I work managing their Employee Health and Wellbeing programme this week. The subject was Aesculap knee replacements and how technology is increasingly playing a role in a surgeon’s ability to ensure greater success through precision alignment.


It was fascinating. Working for a business that supplies such innovative products to the NHS it was just as interesting to hear about the role of exercise in rehabilitation. Equally so was the dispelling of myths such as  – ‘runners will be more prone to knee injury’.


In fact marathon runners and people that exercise provide themselves with a loading effect on the knee that helps sustain knee health and thus are less prone to knee problems overall. Of course as we age things wear out and that’s fact. But again regular exercise plays a key role in maintaining function of our bodies through our lifespan from the cardio system, muscles, bone strength and joints.


Our bodies, bones, tissues and muscle work in harmony to defy gravity and enable us to move. Our heart (a muscle), responds to physical activity adapting to the load we put on it. Our muscles adapt and increase in relation to our activity levels, weight training and the ‘loading effect’.

Indeed in Space, where gravity is nil, NASA conducted studies to try and maintain strength through exercising 5 hours a week in space but still saw up to a 32% decrease in peak power in the calf muscles. Wow.


This study is particularly interesting in relation to the older population in terms of how we lose strength (muscle atrophy), and indeed what might be the most effective exercise programmes to help maintain strength. Why? Independency, lower admission rate into hospitals and improving overall quality of life.

Back to the knee – post operation. Some trusts are using wearable devices to monitor patients with knee replacements to make sure they exercise. A successful outcome, as often described by B. Braun Medical is ‘ the forgotten joint’. In other words patients carry on as normal with the same functionality as a natural knee joint.

To ensure this outcome exercise plays a key role in loading the knee to ensure functionality. Not only that but confidence in the knee from the patient. We were designed to move. So exercise yet again comes up as the miracle drug.

Of course this is not forgetting the studies into exercise and positive mental health benefits, reducing type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart issues, obesity and the plethora of conditions and health problems we could reduce simply by moving. I have covered these in more depth in my previous blog posts.

Exercise therefore can play a vital role in business by creating a sustainable workforce, staff retention, decreased absences and accommodate an ageing workforce that is more than likely going to be in work longer. Reducing the wear and tear through inactivity, but providing a work environment that nurtures movement and promotes health is the same clinical method to managing pre and post operation patients. Whole health.


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So a healthy business needs a thriving workforce see –

Indeed a workforce that is adaptable, engaged, rewarded and provided with opportunities to move more will ensure business function and success. Just like the human body.

Employee Health and wellbeing (H&W) has undoubtedly gained momentum. No longer the elephant in the room, the monthly free fruit or odd exercise class thrown in, but now a function or dedicated role in Business with a pivotal part to play in responding to employees varying needs.

H&W links and transcends business functions. Human resources, Health and safety, pay and benefits, brand building, marketing and the emerging growth of CSR roles. The synergy is clear to see.

It’s a vehicle to aid communication, align departments in big business together or minimise employee absences in smaller businesses that can have huge effects on business operations. Its ‘ethical’ or ‘the right thing to do’ origins have been replaced by the business tangibles. Hard fact ill health costs. For instance mental health lone costs the economy a staggering £70 billion a year. (Source: Public Health England).


H&W is also dynamic and diverse. In the not too distant future workforce demographics will change. It won’t be uncommon to have a young apprentice working alongside a 70 year old. The workforce is an ageing population. How do we cater for the different needs of our employees? Or how do we ensure ‘active ageing’ to support people in work longer through H&W embedded in HR strategy and Occupational Health services.

Workplace environments will have to change, policy will need to be redefined and therefore embedding such things as a proactive H&W strategy now will save £££’s compared to a reactive approach. Physical activity and movement is a compelling business case in itself to manage and reduce risk across multiple factors including long term absences attributed to conditions related to inactivity.

See the workplace health video here

How do we do this? 10 minutes of movement (walking for example) in regular bouts to break up long sitting periods at the desk. Stair use instead of the lifts – active travel – cycle / walking to work where feasible. It fosters the culture that we need to create. See Public Health England’s active 10 campaign ACTIVE 10


With these changes comes opportunities and challenges. A one size fits all H&W approach isn’t the answer. A few sporadic health initiatives here and there are not enough to make a meaningful impact on the metrics used to evaluate its impact.

At Board level H&W is hard tangibles. What is the ROI / Business case and how does this work toward the corporate objectives and vision? This conjures a question. For H&W to even have a chance to succeed it must be at the very top level of an Organisation. It must be credible, recognised and feed into major business growth ambitions.

It is the same as someone going for a few walks to improve fitness levels every so often over a year. It’s not enough. To succeed in fitness the ‘exercise load’ needs to be consistent and regular. H&W strategy needs to be consistent and the load changed. Diversity, variety and underpinned by behavioural change methodology will help engagement.


H&W is no longer a nice to have, but a mechanism to drive growth through a sustainable workforce and influence policy to reflect the changing world around us. The Private sector is arguably better placed at this than the public sector, able to respond and drive innovation through its own product design that can translate to its own in house policy to foster healthy working practices at all levels.

The public sector is in some ways the vehicle that delivers the communication and evidence base for health and wellbeing very well – with little ambition internally of how it implements that agenda to its own workforce. That’s my own opinion. However its private business that has the ability to respond with practice and become a leader in the unprecedented growth of workplace health and wellbeing which increased movement plays a huge part in.



Andrew Picken

Health and Wellbeing Consultant

National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine (Sheffield)





Twitter: @AJPConsultant

Facebook: manbeast28 / Healthinbusiness28

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