Occupational Health Management (OHM) - What?, Why? And How?

June 23, 2023

The Internet is full of definitions of Occupational Health Management (OHM). But what does this term really mean and how important is it in reality? What are the benefits of effective OHM and what specific steps can be taken to achieve it? You can find out more in this article.

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The topic of Occupational Health Management is well on the way to challenging sustainability as the main issue of the moment. Health promotion is being discussed more and more nowadays, even outside of human resources departments, particularly when it comes to becoming more attractive as an employer in the labor market.

However, it is also a reality that only one-fifth of German companies are already implementing holistic OHM. The rest either offer isolated measures, are just starting to get up to speed, or belong to the 13.4% who offer nothing at all in terms of OHM.

The following article explains:

  • what OHM actually is,
  • what it involves,
  • what commends it and who benefits (spoiler alert: it is not only the employees),
  • how much it costs,
  • what measures are available,
  • how the topic can best be addressed within companies and
  • what can be done when things don't go according to plan.

What does Occupational Health Management (OHM) mean?

The Internet is full of definitions of this concept and many of the explanations sound more like scientific theories than day-to-day corporate life. The following two definitions clarify the meaning of this concept quite well:

OHM is the structured implementation of health-promoting and prevention measures for the benefit of employees within a company.[1]

OHM is a structured, planned, coordinated process intended to maintain employee health and performance sustainably in the long term.[2]


Admittedly: The topic still seems quite dry, but now we know more or less what we are talking about: it is not just about activities and measures such as gym membership or an hour of yoga in the break room.

We are more concerned with the carefully thought-out processes that lie behind these activities. So in concrete terms, we are talking about the strategy and planning required to create an environment in which a company's employees not only feel good but also stay healthier and therefore more productive.

Which aspects are part of occupational health management?

Health is always considered holistically in the context of OHM. It therefore encompasses both physical and psychological aspects. The factors that should be included in the planning of holistic health promotion therefore include not only:

  • Work equipment (machines, tools, workspaces, etc.),
  • Working environment (factory, office, etc.),
  • Working hours (shifts, flextime, etc.) and
  • Work organization (organizational structures, hierarchies, international orientation, etc.),

But also:

  • Social relationships (in teams, across different staff levels, etc.),
  • Individual needs (preferences, character traits, etc.),
  • The supporting environment (colleagues, supervisors, etc.) and
  • The life situation of employees in terms of work-life balance (private life, family, etc.). [4]

Important: OHM is not a one-sided process. In addition to the company, employee behavior also has a decisive role to play. Comprehensive occupational health management therefore targets both sides and creates a suitable environment (e.g. ergonomic office chairs) as well as incentives for healthy employee behavior (e.g. yoga).


Is Occupational Health Management a legal obligation?

In a word, no. OHM as a whole is not a legal obligation in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. However, all three countries have a number of legal requirements that companies have to fulfill within the framework of OHM. These include regulations stemming from:

§ the German health and safety law (DE)

§ the German operational safety ordinance (DE)

§ the German workplaces ordinance (DE)

§ the Austrian general social security act (AT)

§ the Austrian employee protection act (AT)

§ the Austrian healthcare promotion law (AT)

§ the Austrian labor and health act (AT)

§ the Swiss federal act on accident insurance (CH)

§ the Swiss federal act on labor in industry, commerce and trade (CH)

§ the Swiss ordinance on the prevention of accidents and occupational diseases (CH)


What does Occupational Health Management have to offer?

An overview of some of the benefits that can be derived from Occupational Health Management both for you as a company and for your employees [5] is presented below:


The 4 fundamental principles as success factors in Occupational Health Management


For Occupational Health Management to work, it must be firmly rooted in the overarching corporate strategy. This is where the four basic principles according to Eberhard Kiesche (2013) come into play:

1. Integration: all business divisions and all decision-making must incorporate OHM.

2. Participation: OHM concerns everyone and everyone makes an active contribution to it.

3. Project management: All programs and measures are assessed, and anything that no longer corresponds to the needs of the company or its employees is discarded.

4. Wholeness OHM is not a silo project, it also encompasses aspects such as occupational health and safety and human resources management.

How much does OHM cost?

The cost of Occupational Health Management varies depending on:

  • The size of the company,
  • Strategy
  • and the actual measures involved.

Basically, it is better to plan a monthly budget (per employee for example) than to start off with an overall budget that is gradually eaten into and is never replenished.

OHM is not a short-term strategy; it represents a long-term investment in the health of the entire company, which secures the future viability of a company's human and material assets.

The two reference values provided below give an initial indication of the costs that can arise from Occupational Health Management [6]:

  • Companies with 200 employees: €20 to €30 per month
  • Companies with 2,000 employees: €10 to €15 per month

The good news: Several studies have already come to the conclusion that OHM pays off, and refer to an ROI of 1:2 to 1:10 associated with measures to prevent absenteeism. As far as mental health programs are concerned (see list of measures below), the WHO is predicting an ROI of 4 US dollars for every US dollar invested.

At the end of the day, you will need to calculate individually how effectively your OHM will pay for itself over time.

What measures are part of Occupational Health Management?

Occupational Health Measures can be divided into two types

1) Behavioral prevention measures that target employee behavior to encourage them to actively look after their own health

2) Relational prevention measures that target the employees’ environment and shape it so that it is beneficial for the health of everyone.

Successful OHM always includes a mix of the two types [7].

Examples of behavioral prevention measures include:

  • Company sports teams
  • Company fitness programs such as yoga courses
  • Health days in the company, including advice on correct posture to back exercises, and blood pressure, blood sugar and body fat measurements.
  • Program on improving mental health
  • Training courses on health-related themes such as nutrition in the workplace, work-life balance or dealing with shift work

‍As part of the behavioral prevention measures, your employees should identify their health problems and learn how to deal with them properly so that they can be cured or alleviated in the long term.

The second category, behavioral prevention measures, includes:

  • Ergonomic workplace design, and regular reviews or individual adaptations
  • Measures to improve the indoor environment
  • Healthy meal options in the canteen
  • Honest, respectful, productive employee discussions
  • A good feedback culture

Make sure, when selecting all your measures, that they fit together well and can be implemented in the long term (less is more if in doubt!).

Where to start if you want to introduce OHM in your company

The classic management circle has also proven effective in health management, i.e. [8]:

It should be pointed out that the majority of companies do not have to start from scratch when it comes to OHM. Your appraisal may also reveal that your OHM is only missing a few individual aspects, such as a program to promote mental health, for which various solutions have arrived on the market since the Coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the human psyche.

What to do if you do not achieve the desired results

It is not always easy to put together a package of measures that appeals to everyone in the company, from trainees to employees and even the managing director.  Centrally controlled OHM can become a challenge, particularly in decentralized organizations comprising different branches and international structures.

The following factors can also help to encourage your employees to get involved:

✔ Make the most of group dynamics and offer team programs and challenges!
You can achieve your goals more quickly and easily if you pursue them together; it’s more fun and you're more likely to stay on the ball. This takes advantage of company challenges such as step goals or points for anyone who comes without a car. The reward? An extra paid day's holiday, shopping vouchers or a donation to a local charity.

✔ Awaken your employees’ ambition and encourage them to compete against one another!
You will be surprised which employees stand out in the different tasks, be it in a company run or the Olympics.

✔ Please spread the word! Make sure that everyone knows about your OHM offers!
Make use of all internal communication channels (Intranet, newsletters and Slack channels as well as traditional posters, stickers and flyers) to reach every employee within the company, from the porter to the head of marketing. The best thing to do is ask colleagues from the communications department for support.

Providers of your OHM solutions can be a good point of contact as well. At Likeminded, for example, not only do we support our customers with technical implementation, but we are also happy to advise them on communication and performance measurement. This means that nothing can get in the way of successful OHM.


Sources
https://www.tk.de/resource/blob/2089982/6b926c725e94cff77332e98702d1e835/trendstudie-whatsnext-2020-data.pdfhttps://www.gesundheitsmanagement24.de/praxisleitfaeden-checklisten/praxisleitfaden-betriebliches-gesundheitsmanagement/https://www.bundesgesundheitsministerium.de/themen/praevention/betriebliche-gesundheitsfoerderung/was-steckt-dahinter.htmlhttps://www.bundesgesundheitsministerium.de/themen/praevention/betriebliche-gesundheitsfoerderung/vorteile.htmlhttps://www.bgmpodcast.de/was-kostet-betriebliches-gesundheitsmanagement/#:~:text=In%20einem%20Unternehmen%2C%20was%20200,pro%20Mitarbeiter%20zur%20Verf%C3%BCgung%20stehenhttps://www.gesundheitsmanagement24.de/praxisleitfaeden-checklisten/praxisleitfaden-betriebliches-gesundheitsmanagement/#bgm17https://www.gesundheitsmanagement24.de/praxisleitfaeden-checklisten/praxisleitfaden-betriebliches-gesundheitsmanagement/#Abschnitt-2https://www.gesundheitsmanagement24.de/praxisleitfaeden-checklisten/praxisleitfaden-betriebliches-gesundheitsmanagement/#Abschnitt-2
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