Occupational health management (OHM) depends a lot on the individual organization and its attitude toward corporate responsibility. It requires a long-term investment that could help keep employees fit for work over the long run, even as the legal retirement age keeps creeping upward. To be implemented properly, companies have to carefully consider the entire OHM process and systematically make all the necessary resources (time, finances, personnel) available for the long term. The Baden Württemberg Ministry for Work and Social Order, Families, Women, and Senior Citizens is running a pilot project called Planning, Setup, and Implementation of Occupational Health Management in SMEs in the County of Reutlingen. The project reflects the current situation in the working world and how willing companies are to implement occupational health management. The Reutlingen regional health alliance is working with the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Operational Health Management in on this pilot project.
The Reutlingen regional health alliance established a community network called the Dialogue on Work and Health in 2014. The network attracted numerous parties within different communities in Reutlingen county. It soon became clear that the network had no shared understanding of how to best define and implement such a complex issue as OHM. In light of this, the idea of a key influencer model was discussed. Its aim would be to develop a shared understanding of OHM, collect examples of OHM success stories in the region, and develop appropriate methods for implementing OHM.
The key influencer model consists of two groups. The first is a superordinate group called the Dialogue on Work and Health Network, which is open to all. The parties involved see themselves as OHM advocates and the idea is that they become empowered to competently and convincingly promote occupational health management. The other group is an internal training group, which takes part in OHM training courses. The idea here is to provide instruction on the theory of OHM and put this into practice within the participants’ organizations. The combined theoretical knowledge and practice-based experience during implementation then becomes an instrument for OHM. At the end of the training course, this knowledge and experience is summarized in a handbook that can be passed on to the key influencers.
Ulrike Niethammer, Director of the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Operational Health Management in Herrenberg, developed the concept for the subject-specific and systematic structuring of the OHM training course. “The aim of the course is to develop a shared understanding of OHM, test how well the implementation steps can be taken in practice, help participants identify with occupational health management in the process, and motivate participants to implement OHM in their respective organizations,” she explains, describing the road map for the course and its seven workshop units. Something of utmost importance to Ulrike Niethammer: “On-the-job learning is crucial – the theory is always tested for viability in practice. This way the OHM requirements can be adapted to match the specific needs of the organization.”
In November 2015, five SMEs successfully completed the first OHM training course. They are now more aware of health issues in the working environment and implement OHM at their own companies through a variety of measures. In Reutlingen county, these companies serve as success stories for OHM. Training course participants have given very positive feedback. The chamber of trade in Reutlingen was one such participant and praises the fact that “any apprehension about occupational health management was eradicated through the theoretical and practice-based application” and “an in-depth exchange of experiences was possible thanks to the unique makeup of the group.” To continue to support employees and work more systematically, the chamber of trade plans to implement a long-term occupational health management program. One company, SchwörerHaus KG, had already taken first tentative steps toward an occupational health promotion but what it lacked was a clear structure for occupational health management. Participating in the course gave it the push it needed to establish OHM and extend it to other areas.
The regional alliance recently published a handbook it has written on occupational health management at SMEs. It promotes the handbook through the Dialogue on Work and Health Network in the area. The participants from the first run of the course are listed as contacts for companies with an interest in finding out more, so they can share their own experience with occupational health management and point to its merits. The Dialogue on Work and Health Network hopes to take its handbook beyond the borders of Reutlingen county and pique an interest for occupational health management and the key influencer model.
The German-language handbook entitled “An Introduction to Occupational Health Management
in SMEs” can be obtained by contacting the regional health alliance through the Reutlingen
authorities or through the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Operational Health Management.
Steinbeis Consulting Center Operational Health Management (Herrenberg)