workhealth checks
putting fitness on the agenda

If we are to positively impact the health of our nation we must be innovative in the way we address fitness and lifestyle behaviours. One way of doing this is by taking guidance to the workplace, says Daniel Ross.

The large built gentleman came into the room for his health check. He was the fifth client from the company. As he entered he was a bit short of breath, and puffing as he sat down. He told me he’d come for the appointment with me, the WorkHealth clinician, ‘for a bit of a break’ from the office. I attended his questionnaire, observing waist measurement, blood pressure, and glucose and cholesterol readings. At the conclusion his eyes widened in alarm when I said to him ‘most of your readings are high, you need to go and see your doctor as soon as possible’. His ‘bit of a break’ possibly saved his life.

Having worked as a nurse for the past 25 years in areas ranging from cardiology and respiratory to oncology, I have seen quite a bit of tragedy. So, working in the role of a WorkHealth clinician for the past 12 months has been a real breath of fresh air. The WorkHealth program is all about health promotion and risk factor prevention: promoting healthy choices to individuals in their places of work, and taking measurements of key health indicators. We then inform the clients of their results and, when necessary, encourage them to make positive changes, such as reducing a large waist measurement through exercise.

The WorkHealth initiative has been running in the state of Victoria for the past four and a half years. It is a government funded program, primarily through WorkSafe Victoria, which awards the tenders to the various providers. To date, approximately 25 per cent of the workforce in Victoria has had a health check performed. This is the first time anywhere in the world a program like this has been run on such a scale and with such cooperation from businesses.

Ultimately, the aim of the WorkHealth program is to achieve healthier outcomes for Australians, with a specific focus on identifying risk factors for diabetes (particularly type 2) and cardiovascular disease. The WorkHealth clinician performing the check is either a qualified nurse, a dietitian or an exercise physiologist. The health check takes place at the client’s workplace, is currently free (government funded), is completely confidential and takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.

Immediately prior to the health check the client will usually complete a questionnaire which addresses whether they smoke, their alcohol intake and family history of diabetes, among other things.

During the health check itself, the WorkHealth clinician goes through the questionnaire and reassures the client that all the information is confidential. Where required, the clinician will make suggestions, based on guidelines: for example, if someone states they smoke, they will be encouraged to give up and given a phone number to ring for practical suggestions on giving up.

After this, the clinician turns their attention to client observations, measuring waist, blood pressure and both glucose and cholesterol levels (which is done by taking a tiny sample of blood from a finger, which is put onto a strip and analysed by a machine). The results of each observation are shared with the client and entered into a workbook for the client to keep.

If any of the observations are out of the healthy range, the clinician will make some suggestions to the client to improve the levels. And if the levels are found to be high, the client is highly recommended to make an appointment with their doctor: a blood pressure of 180/110, for example, is too high and would prompt the clinician to strongly advise the client see their doctor within 24-hours of the health check.

The WorkHealth clinician follows strict guidelines when offering suggestions and advice to clients. Some clients incorrectly assume the WorkHealth clinician can diagnose, whereas, of course, only doctors are qualified to do this. The WorkHealth clinician’s role is to provide observations and suggestions, which will hopefully trigger a positive change. Ultimately, it is up to the client whether or not they act upon anything they are told.

Some clients who have WorkHealth checks will have already recognised that they are not as healthy as they could be and may be trying to do something practical about it by using the services of a personal trainer. The WorkHealth clinician is not allowed to recommend particular personal trainers, but is certainly able to encourage the client to keep seeing their trainer.

I have conducted WorkHealth checks on workers at many businesses, from coffee shops and aircraft hangars, to schools and wineries. As many people struggle to fit a health check-up into their busy lives, the WorkHealth check provides a golden opportunity for individuals to have their observations attended to at their workplace. The funding for WorkHealth checks ceases at the end of December in Victoria, but hopefully this worthwhile program can continue further down the track, and other states will also be motivated to take health and fitness awareness to Australians as they go about their daily lives.

Daniel Ross
Daniel has been a nurse for the past 25 years, working in a number of general medical and surgical areas. Currently in the field of oncology/haematology, he has also been a WorkHealth clinician in Victoria for the past 12 months. For more information about the WorkHealth initiative visit