Why health screening makes financial sense. World Health Day

World Health Day, on 7 April, is a good reminder to check up on occupational health policies. Are you doing enough to keep your employees healthy?

Employees are any company’s most important asset. Taking care of them is an investment in your company’s future, and one way to do that is to offer health screening.

Absenteeism costs the South African economy R16billion every year, according to Statictics SA, so it’s clear that keeping your employees healthy makes financial sense.

But it’s not only sick leave that can drain resources. Presenteeism, where an employee is at work but is unproductive due to smaller health niggles, costs the SA economy a whopping R12billion annually.

Presenteeism can have a host of causes, but minor illnesses are some the biggest offenders, says prof Leon de Beer from Northwest University’s WorkWell Research Centre. “Examples would be an employee going back to work a day early after battling a cold, a person suffering from mild depression, or someone who has sinus problems.”

It’s clear that health screening could increase productivity – not only by addressing the issues that cause presenteeism, but also by preventing future illness and decreasing the amount of sick days taken.

Simple and relatively inexpensive health checks, such as those for blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, can identify a risk of serious illnesses like heart disease and diabetes before it becomes a problem. Many health issues are diagnosed for the first time during routine occupational health screening – especially when an employee falls in a lower income bracket.

Even among employees who can afford private healthcare, occupational health plays an important role. Prof Ina Rothmann, also from the WorkWell Centre, says a study of more than 10,000 South Africans in the private sector showed that the cost of presenteeism in these industries is R45million per month. Absenteeism, on the other hand, costs just over R9million per month in this sector.

Besides the economic benefits, health screening could simply make the work environment more enjoyable. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that employee health is directly related to morale.

Which health checks are most important?

There are four types of health screening to consider:

  • Pre-employment health checks, such as drug tests and questionnaires, to identify areas where a potential employee may need support.
  • On-going surveillance, particularly in organisations where employees are often exposed to hazardous substances.
  • Annual health screening, which should include blood pressure-, blood sugar-, cholesterol- and HIV tests.
  • Lifestyle assessments and awareness campaigns such as smoking cessation programmes, dietary advice, alcohol and substance abuse support, or exercise incentives.

The decision of what to offer employees depends on many factors unique to each organisation. Start by looking at what you can afford. Depending on the size of your company, you could offer free health tests or partially sponsor some tests. Bigger companies could negotiate on-site checks from healthcare providers, while very small companies could start by identifying free clinics in the area.

Written by: D Du Toit