Address new threats to employees’ health
This year’s Health on Demand report also highlights the need for HR and risk managers to develop a deeper understanding of the newest threats to employee health, so they can introduce policies and practices to address these.
New threats to employee health
- Environmental issues, such as extreme temperatures and poor air quality
- Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, and
- Violent crime
Climate change and urbanization are growing threats to employees’ health. Extreme heat and air pollution, for example, can create dangerous working conditions — particularly for people with underlying health conditions. Air pollution is responsible for more than 6.5 million deaths annually — 70% of these in Asia Pacific — with the most vulnerable at greatest risk6. The European Environment Agency cites air pollution as “the single largest environmental health risk in Europe, causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases that lead to the loss of healthy years of life … and premature deaths.”.
Addressing the cause of these environmental issues is, of course, a long-term societal goal. Employers can help to mitigate these factors in the short-term by implementing sensible precautions. For example, organizations can invest in their workplace environments to protect workers from extreme heat and pollution, such as by installing cooling systems and air treatment plants.
They can also take steps to protect their most vulnerable workers. Employees suffering from asthma, for example, should be closely monitored, and possibly redeployed to areas of the business with lower exposure to airborne pollutants. Organizations in regions with high levels of air pollution should consider providing monitoring apps to all staff.
Employers should also carry out their own community-based vulnerability assessments. These can help identify the potential impacts of risks that might threaten particular communities, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and other storms.
In the US, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides guidance on how to carry out a threat and hazard identification and risk assessment. Such information can help employers anticipate different scenarios and put in place plans to support their employees. If there was a major flood in the organization’s local community, for example, how could the employer ensure that employees can access the medicines and other help they might need?
Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation
Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation is not a new phenomenon, but its importance surged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of rumours and “fake news” about COVID-19 vaccines across social media, has been found to affect people’s intentions to get vaccinated — leading to increased infection rates, as well as greater divisions across society.
Employers are in a prime position to tackle these issues. They are a trusted source of information and can provide health education and promote vaccination programs to employees.
Firstly, they must listen to their workforce to gain an idea of what barriers might be preventing people from getting vaccinated. Secondly, they should design a communications programme that addresses these barriers and educates all employees about the benefits of vaccination. Finally, they can provide paid time off work for employees to attend vaccination centres, or even set up their own on-site vaccination programs.
MMB’s Health on Demand report 2023 found that violent crime – including workplace violence – is a major concern for employees across the world. Employees in growth markets such as Latin America, are particularly impacted, with people are worried about their personal safety, as well as that of their family.
Employers are in a unique position to help support employees who have such concerns. Many are taking actions, including:
- Developing comprehensive crisis mitigation plans, including assessment, preparation, response, and recovery.
- Installing preventative features such as on-site ATMs.
- Supporting remote working, where possible.
- Facilitating transport benefits, such as car-pooling, or reimbursing employees for transport costs.
- Providing ongoing mental health benefits.