Health and wellness in the workplace has never been such a heated debate. From the role of vaccines, to office building ventilation, to employee interactions. Economic issues in the workplace, including rising insurance costs and workers compensation cases, create the need for an ‘occupational health professional’ in the boardroom.
Businesses are looking to occupational health professionals to develop programs that help employees manage health conditions, such as: back pain, obesity, respiratory illness and diabetes. I propose that a Physiotherapist is best educated for such a role.
In 2013, the American Medical Association voted to recognize obesity as a disease. Defined as a BMI of 30 or higher, obesity is associated with health risks such as; diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. These diseases are associated with an annual cost in Canada between $4.6 and $7.1 billion.
In 2020, the Covid pandemic attacked the world, and in Canada, it demonstrated how an already stressed public, healthcare system can literally fail the Canadians waiting for cancer treatment, joint replacement, even kidney dialysis.
While preventing injury and accidents have been the cornerstone of occupational health, businesses are realizing that employee health plays a major role in productivity, absenteeism and profits. Developing programs aimed at encouraging active, healthier lifestyles and proactive, fitness maintenance will fall under the occupational health mandate. So too, will specific programs aimed at those afflicted with long covid, mental health concerns, weight management and dementia with aging, such as active ergonomics, lifestyle education and management of chronic diseases.
For many, many individuals, mental or emotional stress shows up physically in the body as overly-tense muscles. Overly tense muscles don’t get sufficient blood flow. This, in turn, increases muscle fatigue and achiness. If this goes on long enough, it can cross over into “pain”. When you have muscle fatigue and achiness over a period of time – even more than just a couple of days – it has a negative impact on your mental health. And it’s worse if it has crossed over to “pain”. You further reduce your physical movement to avoid the discomfort or pain. Maybe guilt rises because you can’t live up to your family obligations such as chores or playing with the kids. This reduction in physical movement further exacerbates the mental health issues, and the cycle continues…. For many, self-medication begins. And we all know where that leads. Ergonomics work we do to make people more physically comfortable at work and reduce their fatigue, aches, and pains is also a mental health intervention because it can mitigate or break the cycle. And it also makes people feel seen and valued which goes a long way toward feeling better emotionally.
As companies become more socially aware and understand the role of Occupational Health Physiotherapists, they will ensure that their most important stakeholders—their employees—are able to be their most productive and efficient. This will lead to the company being seen as a responsible employer with lower employee turnover and increased profits. Thereby, appealing to the latest generation, responding proactively to those looking to return to the office and investing in a company’s greatest asset.