Promoting Health on the Jobsite
Promoting employee health is not separate from ensuring their safety, but an important part of it.
Staying healthy on the job site can be a challenge given the long hours, strenuous work, and exposure to weather conditions. Thankfully, there are some basic things you can do to maintain health during those working hours.
Following the basics of health and fitness will make workers better fit to work in any environment, and they are especially important in environments made challenging by the project specifics, location, and weather. Some of these key basics include proper diet, nutrition for strength and stamina, adequate rest and sleep, and other good habits that minimize physical, mental, and emotional stress. The good habits that have the best chance of being established are those that are continually reinforced as company-wide health and safety policy.
This is going to sound over-simplified, but the first and very best thing any worker can do to stay healthy on the job site is to drink plenty of water.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adequate hydration is critical for the human body to function properly. That's what makes this basic advice so crucial: a dehydrated person is likely to experience symptoms of stress and disorientation that can be life-threatening on the job.
Dehydration puts strain on the heart, making it harder for blood to circulate. The amount of blood circulating through the body, or blood volume, decreases when workers are dehydrated. To compensate for this, the heart beats faster. Add the fact that there is already plenty of stress on the job, not to mention physical and muscular exertion, and it is easy to see how improper hydration can lead to some serious effects.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) advises that workers should be reminded to drink water frequently, and to show extra care when working during extreme temperatures. Having plenty of cool water nearby, within easy reach of workers who are already doing physical labor, is mandatory (see this Stay Hydrated When Working Outdoors safety moment for more).
Health Policy Awareness and Reinforcement
Staying healthy on the job goes beyond what happens on the jobsite itself. Job applications that specify workers must be able to lift a certain number of pounds or have the stamina to work standing up for much of the day set a health and safety standard that extends beyond the working hours.
Although workers have the right to privacy and choice of lifestyle when not at work, the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise will make one job candidate preferable over another.
Once the employee is hired, companies can encourage good personal health and fitness habits. They may, for instance, offer health and fitness education as part of employee training or offer free gym memberships as an employee benefit.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of exercise include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Combating health diseases including high blood pressure
- Improved mood
- Increased energy
- Better sleep
- More and stronger relationships through social connections
Additionally, good nutrition and regular exercise boost the immune system, which will result in fewer sick days.
When the weather conditions on the jobsite become extreme—whether due to high heat or intense cold, heavy winds or strong rain—the challenges of staying healthy on the job increase. Take these opportunities to hold toolbox talks to reinforce the importance of wearing the proper clothing and protective equipment.
Even under the best conditions, workers can be exposed to a variety of illnesses, but extreme weather can put extra stress on the immune system. On exceptionally hot days, give workers advice on staying cool without removing any of their protective equipment, and ensure that they wear water-resistant clothing when working in downpours. Keep in mind that these weather conditions are hazards, not just sources of discomfort, and treat them accordingly.
Connecting Health and Safety
Staying healthy on the jobsite relates directly to reducing the number of work-related accidents and injuries employees suffer. Noticing and reacting to hazards, avoiding incidents, and following every procedure correctly takes mindfulness and focus. But it's precisely that attentiveness that is compromised when we start to get sick.
Promoting employee health, then, is not some additional thing we do when we find ourselves with time to fill; it's part and parcel of ensuring the safety of everyone on the job site.
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