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Prioritising employee health: part 1

World Cement,


It is estimated that the UK economy loses around £15 billion a year to employee sickness, with stress, anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders the most common reasons for long-term absences. Although many companies within the quarrying and construction industry already have effective health and safety strategies, the emphasis is often centred on physical safety elements, such as working at height, lifting heavy loads and working with machinery. However, it is clear that there is a need for more focus to be placed on the health side, which is generally limited to first aid.

The safety of the company’s workforce is an important priority, and Aggregate Industries wanted to show a similar commitment to the subject of employee health. At a time when the retirement age is constantly on the rise and the total number of workers over the age of 60 has increased more than any other age group within the industry over the past few decades, it has never been more important to highlight the significance of health.

At Aggregate Industries, 83% of the workforce is made up of male staff, with 64% of them over 40 years of age. This presents a number of problems when it comes to addressing health issues, not least that men are not always forthcoming when it comes to discussing personal issues or physical health concerns.

The company’s Healthy You campaign was launched two years ago across all divisions. The aim was simple: to establish a greater connection with employees and emphasise the importance of health. The scheme provided people with a forum and the tools to talk about not only the side of health we all see and hear about, but also give people the opportunity to understand their mental health. Combining this with compulsory occupational health medicals at work turned out to be incredibly helpful and effective – and it has saved lives.

Aggregate Industries’ employees now attend regular check-ups.

Implementing a new approach

The past decade has been challenging as the company has seen a period of rapid growth, followed by the global economic downturn, which hit the construction industry hard. The executive committee wants to ensure that Aggregate Industries retains the very best people and develops not only their skills, but also ensures that they are in the best of health. People have to work for longer and with an ageing workforce comes greater risks of health implications, so the company wants to ensure that all of its employees have the right support in place to be as healthy as they can be every day.

To deliver such a large-scale awareness campaign, Aggregate Industries set up a dedicated team made up of members from the Human Resources, Health and Safety and Communications departments. Led by HR Business Partner, Joanne Davis, the team set about introducing the Healthy You campaign with the aim of getting the workforce interested and involved without coming across as patronising. We all know that we should be more aware of our general health and wellbeing, so Healthy You is about giving employees the right information to make their own decisions, and pointing them in the direction to get the support they need.

Introduced through the quarterly company magazine, ‘Agenda’, and within weekly staff bulletins, Healthy You has connected with government-led initiatives such as National Walking Month and National Heart Month, linking with the British Heart Foundation’s heart disease campaign in February.

However, one of the biggest changes the company introduced was mandatory health screenings for all employees. Previously only required to be undertaken pre-employment, the occupational health screenings are now completed bi-annually for higher risk staff, including site and nightshift workers, and every three years for other staff. The company has also increased the content of the medical, which has led to the detection of hidden health risks and, in some cases, even proved life saving for its employees. After attending the routine medical, one staff member discovered he had type 2 diabetes after test results came back showing high glucose levels, while another team member attended a screening only to discover he had a fast and erratic heartbeat. Referred to a GP after his results came through, he was diagnosed with a serious heart condition. Both examples demonstrate how effective and important these health screenings are. If these conditions had been left undiagnosed they could have proved fatal. Subsequently, both employees have radically changed their lifestyles and shared their experiences with colleagues to highlight the value of the screening.

Going beyond the usual healthy and safety campaign, Healthy You has evolved tremendously and has demonstrated the effect someone’s health can have on their safety and how it should not be underestimated. Although the company witnessed some scepticism in the beginning, it is now finding, two years into the campaign, that people are considering their health more and are aware of the importance of keeping healthy, as well as safe. Across the business, Healthy You is now supporting managers and employees on a variety of health issues, no matter how big or small. It has become a major part of everyday life within the company, with investment coming in the form of new training opportunities involving workshops and courses, as well as the occupational health medical assessments.

Aggregate Industries has also addressed the issue of coronary heart disease, which is the UK’s single biggest killer, responsible for almost 74 000 deaths each year (an average of 200 people every day). Sadly, the company loses several colleagues each year due to heart attacks. As a result of this, Aggregate Industries will be investing £270 000 in the placement of defibrillators across 220 sites. This significant investment is worth every penny and follows the advice of the UK Resuscitation Council, which suggests that an AED should be available wherever medical treatment is more than five minutes away – this is certainly the case for most of the company’s quarry and plant locations.

Read part 2 here.

Written by Steve Tagg, Human Resources Director, Aggregate Industries. This is an abridged version of the full article, which appeared in the November 2014 issue of World Cement. Subscribers can view the full article by logging in.

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