You have likely heard of obesity being discussed as a general health concern - which is absolutely warranted. It has a huge impact on one’s health and quality of life. But what about obesity as a workplace health and safety concern?

It simply can’t be denied that obese and overweight workers have implications for workplace health and safety - to themselves and others. To break it down to basics for a moment, being overweight or obese is characterised by carrying extra weight. This leads to poor physical capacity. Therefore, these workers are likely to be unfit and be physically impaired.

There is an undeniable link between obesity and injury risk:

  • Obesity accelerates wear on the joints, limiting your movement and agility

  • Obese and overweight workers will have a harder time squatting, running and climbing stairs - especially safely and without risk of injury

The increasing rate of obesity in Australia (almost 2 in 3 adults in 2014-2015) will continue to have an impact on workplaces and employers for years to come. You can’t deny it and burying your head in the sand about it is only going to make it worse. At the very least, your overweight and obese staff cost you in longer periods of absence due to illness and higher healthcare costs. They are less productive, more prone to injury and have higher workers compensation claim costs.

It was interesting, but perhaps not surprising to learn, that Australian workers within the mining industry are more likely to be obese than a worker in the hospitality industry, and white collar workers are less likely to be overweight than those in managerial positions or in blue collar occupations. We must make it absolutely clear, however, no industry or work type is immune. There are overweight and obese workers in every single industry and job type.

When it comes to work performance, after having read this far, it may not come as a huge shock to learn that obese workers are more likely to take sick leave and be less productive. The average duration of absenteeism is greater for obese and overweight employees compared to non-obese, healthy weight range colleagues.

The increased risk of injury and illness can largely be attributed to poor physical capacity - due to excess weight. Obese and overweight workers are generally unfit and much more prone to accidents and injuries. Why? Physical capacity (or lack of). Obesity restricts mobility and flexibility, leading to a higher risk of injury compared to someone without such limitations. A range of studies have also shown that BMI is positively related to disability, and obese/overweight employees find it more difficult to carry out work duties, especially physically intensive tasks.

There is also an increased risk of musculoskeletal injuries among obese and overweight workers due to the mismatch between ability, physical needs and limitations and the working environment, plant and equipment and required work tasks. What happens if ladders, hoists, forklifts or PPE doesn’t cater for larger workers? It’s certainly something to give considerable thought to.

Lastly, it is important to consider the impact of an ageing population. Australian government policy is to increase workforce participation in relation to an ageing population, as well as to address workforce skill shortages. This means programs have been put in place to encourage the ongoing participation of workers over the age of 55 years. In contrast to this policy (despite may sound and suit your business needs) it is important to recall that obese people are less likely to remain or participate in the workforce - at least partly due to complications of obesity, such as chronic disease and injury. Therefore, obesity may make it difficult to retain older workers, which could result in a big loss of experience and skill. It is absolutely worth taking the time to consider what impact this would have on your business. Do you have an ageing workforce? Will you soon or in years to come? What impact would it have to lose them?

What do you need to do to overcome the issues associated with obesity at your workplace?

We are available to discuss how we can help you create an effective, highly engaging (without high engagement, whatever you come up with is pointless) solutions that actually suits you needs - not just a generic, one-size-fits all program/solution. Contact us today if you’re ready to take charge of this issue - it’s certainly not going to go away or fix itself on its own.