The health of a workplace is considered through many a lens: its operations, procedures, infrastructure, equipment and people (to name a few). In the broader sense, Dr Rebecca Loudoun’s research looks at how these aspects are managed. We spent five minutes with Rebecca to learn a little more…

In what area/s does your current research interests lie?

[In addition to managing workplace health generally], I am also interested in the role of front-line managers in implementing workplace programs aimed at improving health and wellbeing, such as employee assistance programs and wellness programs.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve recently published several articles on health risks in the construction industry drawing on data from a 2-year project on industry level influences on the main risk factors for chronic ‘lifestyle’ or ‘behavioural’ diseases such as cardiovascular disease: poor nutrition, tobacco smoking, physical in-activity, excessive alcohol consumption and overweight and obesity.

As part of a research team I am about to start a 3-year project on the interplay between various operational and HR workplace systems and individual health outcomes, particularly psychological health amongst emergency service workers.

Are there ongoing or emerging trends in your field/s of research?

Safety has long been the focus of most research and legislation around workplace health and safety [WHS]. The meaning and focus of WHS has broadened significantly over the past decade and, as a result, issues such as psychosocial health – not traditionally considered to be WHS concerns – are now firmly on the agenda. This broader, more holistic view also recognises the importance of managing health in the workplace, interrelationships between worker health and worker safety and the spill-over of work into the home domain. All of this research addresses these emerging trends in WHS.

Has there been major developments or key findings that have directed the trajectory of the research?

Current legislation in Australia requires persons conducting a business or undertaking to protect not only the safety of employees, but also the health and wellbeing of employees during the course of employment. Given these considerations it is not surprising that workplace health management is increasingly seen as critical for the prevention of chronic disease.

[In this vein, n]on-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases….[have] considerable cost implications for individuals, workplaces and populations. With most Australians spending the majority of their waking hours at work, health bodies such as the World Health Organisation have recognised the workplace as an ideal setting forconnecting with large segment of the population and on a regular basis to promote health and wellbeing.

Finally, are there challenges in your field/s in trying to bridge the gap between research, practice and policy?

The health and safety of Australian workers continues to be a major economic and social problem. Workplace programs aimed at improving health and wellbeing not only have real potential to positively influence the health of Australia’s workforce, they also make good business sense. Evidence indicates unhealthy lifestyles increase total labour costs, turnover, absenteeism, presenteeism and reduce employee performance, safety performance, and morale, and early exit from the workforce. Research also shows the negative impacts of employees’ poor health extends beyond an individual’s own performance to the performance of their co-workers; and…this influence is contra-directional.