Occupational health services provider Working Knowledge International has raised concerns about the lack of market education pertaining to risks associated with lifestyle diseases which impacts on employees working in the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) industry.
Working Knowledge operations director Suzette Pelser tells Engineering News that the health and safety of employees in the HVAC industry depends on a holistic approach, owing to the significant potential for harm associated with working in the industry.
She clarifies that lifestyle diseases – such as fatigue, hypertension and obesity – which are often neglected by employers – can put employees at risk in the workplace and result in their being declared unfit for work.
Pelser outlines that, owing to the strenuous nature of HVAC industry work, “most of the employees that Working Knowledge sees in the industry are young and generally in good health”.
However, she adds that Working Knowledge practitioners have identified that excessive alcohol intake, high consumption of energy drinks and obesity caused by poor eating habits among younger employees are cause for concern and may impede their ability to work.
Excessive alcohol consumption is causing hypertension that requires chronic medication to control. The excessive consumption of energy drinks is causing short-term effects such as tachycardia, tremors, agitation, restlessness, chest pains and dizziness while, in the long-term, it can also cause persistent health issues such as heart palpitations, hypertension, nausea and vomiting, neurological and cardiovascular system effects, obesity, convulsions and, in some cases, death, explains Pelser.
She emphasises that the HVAC industry ought to undertake education and counselling programmes to help employees and employers come to terms with risks outside the workplace that will later impact on operations. Working Knowledge does extensive counselling and education with HVAC industry employees and has noted successes through its education programmes.
However, Pelser adds that “the economy has put a strain on businesses”, and employers regard medical examinations as a “grudge payment”, resulting in their “shopping around for better rates”. She stresses that better rates do not always necessarily translate into the same service being provided for less. Instead, she outlines that less costly service providers will neglect essential tests and do not offer market education programmes, which are essential in the HVAC industry.
Working Knowledge provides companies with professional advice based on legislative requirements for employees working in the HVAC industry. It also provides assistance with the compilation of a medical surveillance protocol specific to employees, based on an occupational risk exposure profile. It also provides comprehensive medicals for employees before employment, periodically during and upon exiting employment, which include physical examinations, lung-function tests, audiometric testing, vision testing and height work and confined space assessments.
Additionally, the company provides counselling and testing for chronic lifestyle ailments with an employee’s written consent, which remains confidential. It also assists with education regarding any chronic condition. Working Knowledge stipulates that educational programmes are done on an individual basis, based on the medical condition identified. The company provides for referral to specialists when abnormalities, such as HIV, tuberculosis (TB), hypertension and diabetes to name a few, are detected.
Pelser asserts that “most employees are committed to making changes once they fully understand the negative impact of their lifestyle choices on their health”. She adds that Working Knowledge also ensures that follow-ups are done and that employees comply with treatment.
It would benefit employers and employees if training programmes can be implemented that cover chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, TB, alcohol and drug abuse –– and their adverse health effects, concludes Pelser.