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It’s Tradies National Health Month and this week has been an interesting one for me on the wellness at work front. On Monday I attended a one day seminar conducted by the International Well Building Institute and on Wednesday we held our quarterly Safety Series seminar on preventing workplace accidents. It’s worth reflecting on the figures for a moment.

The construction industry in Queensland annually has over:

  • 8,700 injury claims;
  • $119m in compensation payments;
  • 41 average days off work per injury;
  • 30% higher injury rate in workers aged 20-30 years.

How we address these figures and reduce the impacts on individuals, families, employers and the economy is a complex issue. I can’t help thinking the answer lies with the employer but not in the way many might think. If we don’t encourage our workers to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own behaviour and those of their workmates, then we get mindless behaviour and the pre-frontal cortex gets exercised less and less. Just because the pre-frontal cortex’s primary role is called executive function doesn’t mean just executives are allowed to use it!

To reduce injuries in the dangerous building and construction sector we need to encourage greater individual responsibility to be exercised by workers right through the supply chain. Musculoskeletal injuries dominate in the construction workplace yet so many of these could be avoided by periodic stretching or deployment of mechanical or other aids that were not used because it was ‘easier’ to do the task without assistance. According to WorkCover Queensland the average recovery time for a back strain is 8-9 months. That’s ample time I would have thought to contemplate the fact that a lifting device would not by comparison have taken too long to deploy. An exhortation message whether it be by celebrity endorsement or signage is not enough to get people to think for themselves. Encouraging individual behaviour through greater locus of control might have a better impact. Feeling greater control over the design and execution of the work we do is one way to encourage greater self-reliance and self-awareness. Where personal and organisational value align there is likely to be a greater buy-in and sense of duty to self and team.


WorkCover does provide useful advice and their website is a mine of information. Here are a few helpful tips they provided at our Safety Series seminar this week:

1. Don’t overdo it on the job. The majority of injuries are to joints, ligaments, muscles and  tendons. So watch how you are handling objects:

  • Keep your chest up where possible when handling
  • Keep loads close to the body
  • Avoid awkward and twisted postures
  • Ask for assistance when required
  • Use equipment to make tasks safer and easier
  • Something doesn’t feel right? Early intervention of niggles, aches and pains prevents a small problem turning into a large one. Injuries shouldn’t affect your work, family and social life. So don’t ignore the warning signs.

2. You don’t need a six pack to be ‘fit for work’:

  • Being fit for work doesn’t mean having chiselled abs, going for a run at the end of the day or benching 80kgs.
  • Performing a simple set of preventative stretches and exercises can keep your joints and muscles ‘fit’ and avoid injury.

3. It’s the small things that help you keep fit for work:

  • Can you bend and reach without strain? Keep your flexibility by doing 5-10 minutes of stretching every morning
  • Take frequent micro-breaks during the day rather than infrequent long breaks
  • Stay hydrated—2-3 litres of water is what you need!
  • Keep your core strong—go with your other half to Pilates once in a while
  • Sleep well and eat well—give yourself energy to help you remain healthy, alert and safe

There are health issues that an individual has little control over and these I think are the major contributors to workplace illness or health. Tradies aside, most of us will now spend 90% of our lives indoors. The built environment itself therefore has the largest impact on our health. Perhaps for too long our focus on workplace health and safety has been on injury and not illness. A review of Australia’s workplace health and safety legislation would support this supposition. The Brits have done it better with the focus on COSHH deeply imbedded in the Health and Safety Executive. The Americans are even further ahead and leading the way is the Well Building Institute. Their Well Building Standard really does push the frontier of wellness. In fact, they advocate a move from wellness to well-being. Why would we as employers, with such a strong regulatory driver to focus on injury, want to be way out there looking at well-being? Kate Lister’s of Global Workplace Analytics research has identified the following alarming statistics:

  • 63% of CEO’s are concerned about the availability of key skills.
  • 85% of the global workforce is actively or passively looking for a new employer.
  • 87% of the global workforce is “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”.

Put this together and you can see that well-being is a traditional bottom-line issue. Our workplaces it would appear are intrinsically unhealthy. The Well Building seminar I attended produced some startling statistics which bear repeating:

  • 1 in 3 buildings are sick buildings i.e. will have a detrimental impact on our health;
  • We have 2x risk of cardio-vascular disease (CVD) if we have a sedentary job;
  • If we eat unhealthily (often associated with on-site cafes) we have a 66% increased risk of lower productivity;
  • 12.7% of deaths could be averted by improving air quality;
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde found in buildings are major carcinogenic risks to humans.


Is this the world’s healthiest building? 425 Park Avenue New York

The Well Building Standard has a scorecard that concentrates on seven core facets:

  • Air;
  • Water;
  • Nourishment;
  • Light;
  • Fitness;
  • Comfort; and
  • Mind.

Some of the above facets are obvious but I was fascinated by the Mind facet which is broken down into 17 separate areas including;

  • Health and wellness awareness – within the employers as encouraged by the employer;
  • Beauty – where the actual building and how it presents itself has a positive impact on personal health and well-being;
  • Biophilia – where nature is incorporated within the design because our affiliation with the natural world is primal and aids health and wellness;
  • Healthy sleep policy – everything from sleep pods, circadian lighting to work servers preventing email exchange outside of prescribed family friendly hours;
  • Business travel – ensuring enough recovery time is built into schedules;
  • Workplace family support – family friendly employment policies especially around leave;
  • Self-monitoring – advocating sensors and wearables;
  • Stress and Addiction Treatment – advocating mind and behaviour support and a focus on stress management;
  • Altruism – positive health benefits from employers matching employee’s contributions to charities;
  • Art – where artwork, spatial familiarity and ceiling height can all work to improve health outcomes.
  • Organisational Transparency – Where there is an obvious and authentic fairness, equity and just treatment a culture of reduced stress is created that in turn has long-term health benefits.


It would appear that to provide a truly healthy work environment we are being encouraged, and at some stage will be required, to think beyond the normal kinematics of accidents and incidents. The key to health promotion lies with the individual that is an engaged member of their team and works in a culture that encourages loyalty and rewards it with the possibility of satisfaction and self-actualisation. Too lofty, or Byron Bay woo woo? I think not. Businesses out there are already in this space and are being rewarded for it by way of greater productivity and improved profitability. Along the way team members are feeling more engaged and their physical, mental and spiritual health are being improved and nourished. Without the promise of this, the prospect of working longer before I can retire is not very edifying. In fact it makes me sick just contemplating it!