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National Workplace Wellness Policy for Barbados Working Group

The working group which has been set up to establish the National Workplace Wellness Policy for Barbados will reconvene at “Solidarity House” on Thursday, July 20, to put the finishing touches to the document. The team which is being guided by Dr. Dwayne Devonish, Senior Lecturer in Management Studies at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, is made up some forty-odd representatives of the trade union movement, personnel and human resource managers in the Private and Public sectors and representatives of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour.                       

The National Workplace Wellness Policy for Barbados reflects a nation-wide multi-stakeholder commitment to safe, positive and healthy workplaces, homes, schools and communities. It underpins and supports the establishment of wellness-related programmes and initiatives at various levels that will assist all individuals in the various productive economic sectors/industries in achieving an enhanced state of physical, mental and emotional well-being. In the context of the employment environment, a healthy workplace results in improved job satisfaction, morale, work performance which, in turn, promotes overall workplace productivity.

Under the exiting framework, the Policy seeks to achieve, among other things, the development of healthy workplace environments supported by comprehensive and well-guided wellness policies, programmes and cultures.

While the Policy will adopt a holistic approach to health, its conception has resulted from the tremendous human and financial burden that has been imposed on the Barbadian worker and, by extension, the Barbados economy by the increasing levels of illness and death caused by non-communicable diseases, such as cancers, diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, and respiratory illnesses.

According to Professor Sir Trevor Hassell, Chairman of the Commission on Non-Communicable Diseases in Barbados, our country has been particularly challenged by an epidemic, a veritable tsunami, of chronic disease, one that results in significant ill-health and death, and which is a major economic burden to the country.  He adds that the four chronic diseases of heart disease and stroke, diabetes, cancers and chronic lung diseases and their complications result in eight out of every 10 deaths in Barbados an account for more than 60% of the health budget of the Ministry of Health. The foregoing information, I think, is alarming and should inform those of you who are listening to understand why we in the Barbados Workers’ Union place such significant emphasis on health promotion.

Added to the foregoing comment by Sir Trevor, we are told that the main findings of the Barbados Health of the Nation Survey of 2015 show that Barbadian adults are at high risk from NCDs due to high prevalence of biological and behavioural risk factors. Most alarming is that two in every three adults in Barbados (and three-quarter of women) are overweight and or obese. In addition, more than one in three adults in Barbados (more than one in two of those aged at least 45 years) are hypertensive – that is, they suffer from high blood pressure, and one in five Barbadians have diabetes (almost one in two  of those aged 65 years or older).  At least one in three of those with known hypertension or diabetes who were receiving treatment had sub-optimal control.

The Healthy of the Nation Survey Report has called for urgent action to address the low levels of biological risk that are present in the Barbadian adult population. The Report emphasizes that community and civil society involvement could help support healthier behaviours and we believe that the institution of the proposed National Workplace Wellness Policy would assist in a profound way because of the proactive stances that it will seek to adopt in relation to worker health, working in concert with the Health Promotion Unit, Ministry of Health, together with the Commission on Non-Communicable Diseases, the Mental Health Commission and the Diabetes Foundation and Diabetes Association.

Along with the issue of non-communicable diseases, we will seek to place equal emphasis on the issue of mental health, an area which some Barbadians have regarded as taboo, for much to long. We wish to take a serious look at mental health because the reality is that mental disorders impose an enormous burden on societies throughout the world, and, this may be even more so now that world economies have been suffering because of the persistent economic downturn which has resulted in job-lay-offs, threats of lay-offs, and job redundancies. Many workers are under tremendous mental pressure. It is reported that depression alone affects 400 million people and is the single largest contributor to years lived with disability. And so, worsened by low levels f investment and treatment coverage, mental disorders also have serious economic consequences: depression was estimated to cost at least US$ 800 billion in lost economic output, a sum expected to more than double by 20130. The foregone output because of mental, neurological and substance use disorders globally, is trillions of dollars, according to the World Bank.

As we have indicated the Policy will be a wellness policy. And, wellness is much more than merely physical health, exercise or nutrition. It is the balanced integration of various states of wellness including social, psychological, physical, spiritual, environmental, occupational, intellectual and cultural dimensions. According to Swarbick, wellness is defined as “a conscious, deliberate process that requires a person to become aware of, and make choices for, a more satisfying lifestyle. Wellness is the process of creating and adapting patterns of behaviour that lead to improved health in the wellness dimensions and heightened life satisfaction.

This framework of wellness which we are adopting assumes that individual workers are empowered to take on the personal responsibility and be proactive in the preservation of their overall health and well-being. The model also suggests the importance of individuals developing the necessary attitudes and competencies to fully understand wellness (and how it can be attained) and being able to take full control over their life.