Garnering consensus on the importance of work to health
This article precises the media releases from the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM). The Australian version of the Consensus Statement has been included on our website.
Occupational Physicians, though AFOEM launched a consensus statement about the health benefits of work, highlighting the positive impact work can have on physical and emotional wellbeing, on an individual and community level.
Endorsed by 40 organisations as at March 28 2011, including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Business Council of Australia, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and most compensation authorities, the Consensus Statement has received overwhelming support from Australian and New Zealand stakeholders.
Dr David Beaumont, Chair of the Policy and Advocacy committee of AFOEM said
“Stakeholders in this field are a broad church with a vested interest that we all get this right. We have a shared desire to improve the welfare of individuals, families and communities and strong convictions that we all play our part.”
The Consensus Statement draws attention to a number of evidence-based principles about the relationship between health and work, including that:
- Work is generally good for health and wellbeing;
- Long term work absence, work disability and unemployment have a negative impact on health and wellbeing;
- Work is an effective means of reducing poverty and social exclusion;
- Work practices, workplace culture and work-life balance are key determinates of individual health, wellbeing and productivity;
- Good outcomes are more likely when individuals understand the health benefits of work, and are empowered to take responsibility for their own situation; and
- Health professionals exert a significant influence on work absence and work disability, particularly in relation to medical sickness certification practices.
Helen Kelly of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU), who addressed the Consensus Statement launch, heralded the initiative as an important step in improving worker wellbeing.
The CTU supports the Consensus Statement as part of an important discussion about how to minimise the impact of accidents and illness on the long term wellbeing of workers
“We are clear that the health benefits of work are proven.
“The detrimental effects of wanting to work but being unable to find a decent job, or being limited by incapacity, are also severe. In this context, it is exciting to participate in a mature discussion amongst so many involved parties, with the aim of furthering worker wellbeing."
The Consensus Statement was launched by Professor Dame Carol Black, Director of Health and Work in the United Kingdom (UK) and champion of the UK’s Healthcare Professionals Consensus Statement.
The Consensus Statement was developed as a tool to garner action, and enlist stakeholders to implement the recommendations of the position statement, Realising the health benefits of work. The position statement provides compelling international and Australasian evidence that work is generally good for health and wellbeing, and that long term work absence, work disability and unemployment generally have a negative impact on health and wellbeing.
But getting the message out to the community takes time and effort, and AFOEM will rely on the proactive approach of organisations to relay key messages.
Achieving consensus amongst diverse stakeholders is always challenging. In developing the Consensus Statement, AFOEM has striven to ensure that the central message (that work is generally good for health and wellbeing) is clearly conveyed, while also shoring up the broad support necessary to bring this message home to Australian and New Zealand communities.
How the Consensus Statement was developed.
UK health reformer Professor Dame Carol Black has championed AFOEM’s efforts in this area, as have the many stakeholders who have endorsed the Consensus Statement.
The UK review of work and health led to the development of a UK based consensus statement, signed by a broad group of health professionals.
As suggested by stakeholders at the launch of the Position Statement, AFOEM’s initiation to be a signatory to the consensus statement has included health practitioners, business, policy makers, and unions.
AFOEM undertook two rounds of stakeholder consultation in order to produce the final version of the consensus statement.
Changes made to the consensus statement as a result of consultation included:
- A clear articulation of the motivation behind the Consensus Statement, which is “a shared desire to improve the welfare of individuals, families and communities”.
- Acknowledgement that “Work practices, workplace culture, work-life balance, injury management programs and relationships within workplaces are key determinates, not only of whether people feel valued and supported in their work roles, but also of individual health, wellbeing and productivity.”
- Acknowledgement that “Individuals seeking to enter the workforce for the first time, seeking reemployment or attempting to return to work after a period of injury or illness, face a complex situation with many variables. Good outcomes are more likely when individuals understand the health benefits of work, and are empowered to take responsibility for their own situation.”
- Acknowledgement that, for health professionals, patient advocacy “includes, but is not limited to,” awareness of the health benefits of work.
- A simplification of the call to action present in the first iteration of the Consensus Statement, accompanied by an acknowledgement that signatories only agree to take actions relevant to their various areas of responsibility or action.
The consensus statement has been signed by 40 Australian groups, and discussions continue with unions and other stakeholders.
Use of the message
AFOEM considers the ways in which the message about the health benefits of work is used to be as important as the message itself.
If the message about the health benefits of work is perceived to be about the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities, it is likely to prove powerful.
If the message about the health benefits of work is used as a way of coercing people, or is seen as simply a way of reducing costs, the message will be devalued and lose credibility.