Fit for the job

A company launches a business health management initiative

By the end of 2013, the Nufringen-based filter specialist Elsässer Filtertechnik plans to become one of the first companies in Germany to gain Occupational Health Management certification under the new DIN SPEC 91020. The new standard stipulates which health-promoting and efficiency-enhancing business mechanisms have to be in place, as well as systems and processes. It also defines how workers can be empowered to engage in health-promoting practices. The filter specialist is being supported in its efforts by the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Operational Health Management.

Elsässer Filtertechnik has more or less considered standard-based quality management systems – and with this, efforts to enhance efficiency and customer satisfaction through high quality standards – as a given, and this at least since 2005. It is also officially certified under ISO 9001:2008. The specialist in filter technology is also committed to environmental management and is distinguished by its responsible approach and longterm thinking, as underscored by its certification under ISO 14001:2004.

The business set up a six-strong steering group in 2012. Its task is to introduce and implement occupational health management (OHM) across the company, designing and planning the best way to comply with requirements laid down by the new DIN SPEC 91020 on behalf of everyone at the firm. The entire project is being advised by Ulrike Niethammer who heads up the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Operational Health Management.

The first phase involved generating awareness and asking fundamental questions. These included: “What does health actually mean, at home and at work?”, “Can health be improved at work?”, “What can people do for their own health (individual prevention)?”, “What structures need putting in place at work to promote health (contextual prevention)?”, “How can health-promoting factors like transparency, involvement and meaning be integrated into work processes (salutogenesis and organizational development)?”. The steering group soon concluded that implementing OHM would involve a lot more than organizing team sports and encouraging people to make healthier meal choices.

In the second phase, the current working environment at Elsässer Filtertechnik was examined with respect to key health issues. This was carried out by conducting an employee survey, which was designed and organized by the steering group and evaluated by experts at the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Operational Health Management. The results were encouraging: 30 out of 32 distributed questionnaires were evaluated. The steering group held a workshop to examine, discuss and mull over 134 separate issues, eventually laying down priorities in terms of significance and effectiveness. By the end of the workshop, the group had identified eight health threats and eleven health opportunities with corresponding “areas of action” and a detailed list of next steps.

The results of the survey were also presented to company staff at a separate workshop. After the presentation, the experts at the workplace – the employees themselves – discussed different views, explanations and ideas revolving around five separate issues, all derived from the survey results. The opinions and suggestions made by employees formed a basis for exploring ways to solve each “area of action” in the subsequent OHM process. Measures would also need preparing and implementing.

Meanwhile, the results speak for themselves. Following requests from staff, since the end of last year two staff representatives are elected, one female and one male. Their job will be to mediate in the event of conflict or if there are personal issues between an employee and his or her manager. Eating arrangements were also criticized, so now people at Elsässer can order a free Italian meal two times a week. The joint lunch with colleagues has been extremely well received, and there is lively conversation and a feeling of togetherness.

Staff members also have a say in the arrangement of health-promoting measures at work. For example, personal fitness will be supported through subsidized membership at a local gym which is scheduled to open nearby in September 2013. There are also plans to stage team events at the company, such as an introduction to healthy movement, back exercises, how to lift heavy objects and information on health checks. The next summer festival will also open the door to family members for a hike through the nearby Schönbuch forest followed by an archery event.

There were also calls to do more about communication and management. As a result, there are plans to set up a summer school for managers to provide regular instruction on management skills and leadership qualities. A method based on “collegial consultation principles” will be introduced in management. The aim will be to develop joint solutions to the everyday challenges of business administration, to learn from one another and to derive benefit from the experience of colleagues.

On top of these measures, the project teams are also drafting procedural guidelines which will cover systems used in quality management, environmental management and occupational health management. Goals are being set, based on the eight health threats and eleven health opportunities identified through research. These goals will relate directly to the management handbook, so that later a procedure can be established to identify and assess such criteria.

The next one-day workshop will look at organizational development, communication and management in more detail, which will be captured formally. There is also a need to examine company planning and auditing processes, as well as monitoring, measurement, analysis and evaluation. Afterwards, preparations will be made for an internal audit, complete with management evaluations and improvements. The employee survey will be repeated and evaluated in September 2013 to check progress and put in place a continuous improvement process. That being said, Elsässer and Ulrike Niethammer already consider the project a complete success.

A discussion with Frank Elsässer

“Everyone benefits from successful projects”

Mr. Elsässer, what was it, in your role as managing director of Elsässer Filtertechnik GmbH, that made you want to invest in occupational health management?

It became clear to me during the first interview with Ulrike Niethammer that the most important assets of my company are not my warehouse or the modern office building, but the value of every individual who works for my company. I should have invested in my employees much earlier.

What business objectives have you set for the OHM process?

All of my 32 employees enjoy my unlimited trust. Most have been working for my company for a very long time – over 75% of them are in their 40s or older. I’d like my employees to still enjoy coming to work for the next 20 years and for them to remain healthy and ready to work.

What benefits do you expect as a result of the introduction of the new DIN standard?

I’d like every single employee to keep thinking about the personal contribution they can make to keeping up their performance and staying healthy. I’m working permanently with the steering group to put the mechanisms in place so that everyone can make a contribution with their professional knowledge and through their individual potential. This will allow us to grow together and make our quality services available to others at all times. We’re building a new hall in 2013, and we’re already looking for people with the right fit. I’d also encourage other company managers to invest in occupational health management because everyone benefits from successful projects at a healthy company – clients, staff, managers, and the region.

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