The health and well-being of employees is a key factor in the success of any business or organisation. Recognising the value of a healthy workplace will ensure that staff are ‘healthier, happier and here’. Placing these issues at the centre of an organisation’s concern will help ensure its continuing effectiveness.
(The Healthy Workplace Initiative, UK Department of Health, April 1999)
While many organisations’ formal policy statements on OHS echo the one above, it is often the case that workplace factors undermine good practice. A range of conflicts and contradictions may be created by economic and competitive pressures, which at a workplace level may translate into a range of cost-efficiency strategies that are directed at labour. The impact on employee health may be considerable given that a range of evidence links factors such as long working hours, high workloads, performance targets and electronic surveillance to work-related injuries and illnesses. As stated earlier, the HRM literature gives minimal attention to the interaction between people management policies on work organisation and employee health. It is for this reason that we now go on to explore how various working polices and practices, impact upon employee health and safety. While economic and competitive pressures will influence work organisation, the same is also true for the quality of the working environment. Some commentators have argued that the built environment should not be regarded as a neutral factor in explanations of occupational illness and/or disease. According to Bain and Baldry (1995), the built working environment is a critical element of the labour process because it represents decisions about cost efficiency, the regulation of energy and the level of individual control over the environment, which in turn have significant implications for the health and well-being of employees. For example, ‘sick building syndrome’ is intimately linked with a range of cost-efficiency measures affecting building design and construction and policies on work organisation. New technologies occupy a central role in these debates, where their impact on the working environment and working practices is highly evident in a range of settings (for example, manufacturing, airlines and call centres).