2 min read

How to counter obesity in the workplace

Appropriately managing obesity in the workplace can be difficult, but with nearly 5 million Australians now classed as obese, it is a matter that should not be avoided.

Obesity is a workplace health and safety issue because it can have dire consequences for the obese employees’ health and physical capabilities.

Research also shows that overweight people are more likely to have additional health risks, short-term disability, longer absence due to illness and higher health costs compared to those with a lower Body Mass Index (BMI).

This means that overweight employees are likely to be less productive, more prone to injury and have higher claims costs.

How you can deal with workplace obesity

When carrying out any initiative or program you must show respect for those involved. Weight is a very sensitive issue for many people and if you don’t carry out initiatives mindfully and with respect, you could leave yourself open to a number of legal risks, such as bullying, harassment and discrimination complaints.

The best policies businesses can implement are those that:

  • educate and encourage employees to live healthier lifestyles; and
  • manage the risks associated with obesity in the workforce.

Below are 8 things you can do to counter obesity in your workforce:

  1. Provide a series of educational seminars, workshops or classes on weight management. If you offer employees health insurance, your provider may be able to run these seminars for you. Otherwise, you can engage a nutritionist to carry out a range of educational sessions for your staff.
  2. Assess weight capacities for equipment in your workplace, such as ladders, hoists, elevators, seats and forklifts. Ensure that this is part of all workplace health and safety training and sufficiently communicated to employees.
  3. Conduct an ergonomic assessment to ensure the design and evaluation of tasks, jobs, plant, environments and systems are compatible with your employees’ needs, abilities and limitations.
  4. Provide free or subsidised one-on-one or group lifestyle counselling for employees.
  5. Implement manual handling and back support training if your employees are required to assist people that are obese (this is particularly important for those in the health and aged care sector).
  6. Provide free or subsidised body composition measurements, such as height and weight, BMI scores, or other body fat assessments, followed by direct feedback and clinical referral when appropriate.
  7. Ensure that healthy food and beverages are available on-site, e.g. in vending machines and company cafeterias.
  8. Provide free or subsidised weight management programs—while this comes at a cost to the business, it may go towards reducing your insurance premiums and minimising WorkCover costs.
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