Research

Workplace health promotion benefits ‘marginal’

Workplace interventions to address unhealthy worker ‘behaviours’ such as physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet, high alcohol intake and smoking show only ‘marginal gains’ and are ‘disappointing’, workplace health researchers have concluded.

The editorial in the Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health is critical of the wide adoption of health promotion programmes focusing only on lifestyle and not on work-related factors, despite significant ‘knowledge gaps’ on their effectiveness. The authors note: “Because of the persistent socioeconomic health inequalities and the low number of scientific studies conducted among workers with a lower socioeconomic position... interventions should use approaches that go beyond a single behavioural component, for example a systems approach that considers underlying issues that coincide among workers with a low socioeconomic position (eg. unhealthy behaviours, unfavourable working conditions, health problems, and underlying social and financial issues)."

The editorial, authored by researchers from public health institutes in the Netherlands, concludes “workplace health promotion programmes thus far show marginal gains, as the effectiveness and implementation of traditional universal preventative workplace health promotion interventions are still disappointing.”

This has been a long-held union position: many employers who seek to introduce 'health promotion' programmes aimed at employees' individual behaviours often have not identified and controlled all the work-related hazards. They have a legal duty to do this first - and only then, once all workplace hazards and risks have been eliminated/minimised should they consider programmes aimed at individual worker behaviour. 
Read more: Robroek SJW, Coenen P, Oude Hengel KM. Decades of workplace health promotion research: marginal gains or a bright future ahead, Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, volume 47, number 8, pages 561-564, 2021. doi:10.5271/sjweh.3995. Source: Risks 1020

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