SINGAPORE – When he was a young doctor, Professor Chia Kee Seng met a father and son who suffered from breathlessness. Both worked in a factory producing tombstones.
Prof Chia, now dean of Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, took an X-ray of the father’s chest and realised that his lungs were filled with granite dust instead of air.
The man had a condition called “stone lung” because of his work. Prof Chia could not do anything for him and the man would die of the condition.
Such patients made Prof Chia realise that promoting workplace health is important in increasing the well-being and productivity of employees.
Prof Chia was speaking at the biennial Singapore Health Award 2017 ceremony on Tuesday (Oct 10). The award, initiated by the Health Promotion Board (HPB), recognises organisations with strong commitment to promote workplace health.
This year, 223 firms and individuals received awards at the ceremony, which was held at the ITE College Central campus in Ang Mo Kio.
The award was first created in 1999 and has been given to 1,300 companies, reaching out to more than 1.3 million workers.
The HPB said in a statement: “With 70 per cent of Singapore’s population in the workforce, the workplace has naturally become an important setting to engage Singaporeans in achieving greater health and well-being.”
The highest accolade, the Achievement Award under the Corporate Award category, was awarded to four organisations which displayed sustained efforts in promoting health for at least a decade.
These are CityCab, the Housing and Development Board, healthcare firm GlaxoSmithKline and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
Said Mr Zee Yoong Kang, chief executive officer of HPB: “Earlier this year, our findings with our HPB study showed that the biggest shifts in overweight and obesity numbers are seen among Singaporean young adults as they transit from school and national service into the workplace. This can be attributed to more sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets.
“With obesity being a contributing factor to health problems, including diabetes, bringing ‘health’ into the workplace has become increasingly important.”
The ceremony also saw companies sharing their best practices.
Representatives from HPB shared their “Merry Monday” initiative, where aspirational messages are e-mailed to everyone to cheer them up. The recent Mid-Autumn Festival also had staff climbing stairs in exchange for low-sugar mooncakes.
Mr Edmund Yu, 52, an award winner from Seagate Singapore, shared how he climbs 176 steps each day in his office and encourages others to do so. On Earth Day, employees also climbed steps in exchange for apples and bananas.
Mr Yu, a senior project manager, also initiates weekly exercise sessions. He leads “boot camps” with agility ladders and resistant bands on Mondays and jogging sessions on Wednesdays. On Fridays, he brings in instructors to guide fellow employees in Zumba.
These ground-up initiatives have encouraged his colleagues, such that during their SG52 relay run this year, 238 staff took part across Seagate sites.
Mr Yu admitted that there were challenges that prevented colleagues from joining exercise activities, such as work and family commitments.
“It really takes only 10 minutes to do a quick exercise,” he said. “I try to motivate and get others to consider the health benefits. If they can’t make it today, I tell them it is okay because we are still exercising tomorrow and they can join us then.”
Prof Chia added: “We need a mindset change – we have always valued wealth over health. Now we have to pursue both health and and wealth together.”