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The control link between health and safety

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The absence of control in one’s job and private life has been found to be a major contributing factor to coronary heart disease and cancer, according to a leading occupational health and safety expert.  

North Sydney Council OHS Systems Consultant and former CSIRO OHS Advisor Don Benjamin delivered a paper on the control link between health and safety at the 2006 Sydney Safety Show, presented by Australian Exhibitions and Conferences. 

It has also been found to be a major factor limiting the implementation of effective safety programs and improved productivity in the workplace. There are benefits apparent to both the organisation and employees of devolving responsibility and control so that decision making is made as far down the hierarchy as possible.  

On the causation of disease, Benjamin’s paper examined coronary heart disease and cancer as these two diseases together account for about half of all deaths in Australia. On the role of developing an effective safety program in the workplace he looked at several principles claimed to be critical in reduction of injury and their costs and increased productivity.
 
The claimed benefits of increased control and the sense of autonomy in one’s personal life are:

  • Prevention of diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease
  • Reduction of stress
  • Decrease in hospitalisation

The claimed benefits of increased participation and control in the workplace are:

  • Reduction in injuries
  • Increase in the flow of ideas
  • Increase in morale
  • Increase in productivity
  • Reduction in absenteeism
  • Prevention of coronary heart disease

There is a common thread that links these two concepts of “emotional factors in the cause of disease” and “the role of workplace control in the implementation of effective safety programs and the prevention of injury and illness”, namely the importance maximising the individual’s sense of participation and control. In the workplace this is achieved by devolving responsibility and control so that decision making is as far down the hierarchy chain as possible so as to maximise what Marmot referred to as demand latitude. Development of the same autonomy and feeling of control in the employee’s personal life is merely a continuation of the disease prevention process. 

If this is done the evidence suggests that 

  1. the incidence of workplace injury would be reduced
  2. productivity would be increased
  3. morale would increase
  4. individual employees would be less likely to get coronary heart disease or cancer
  5. incidence of psychosomatic disorders would be reduced and
  6. the incidence of depression would be reduced.  

In other words a win/win situation for both employer and employee.

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