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Larger grants to boost workplace health

From April, firms can get up to $15k for fitness and well-being schemes

Larger grants to boost workplace health

GlobalFoundries employees taking part in an after-work workout led by instructor Celine Lim (in green). The firm also holds talks on mental well-being. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

COMPANIES will be given more help to keep their employees in shape after the Health Promotion Board (HPB) announced it is handing out larger grants for fitness and well-being schemes.

Those wanting to start workplace programmes such as anti-smoking drives can apply for up to $15,000 from April, compared with $12,000 at present, said Minister of State for Health Amy Khor.

The extra $3,000 will go mainly towards supporting initiatives that promote mental well-being.

Distressed employers, staff and family members will also be able to phone a new helpline, 1800-8255-8687. Called 1800-TalkToUs, it will give out counselling advice from today.

And a separate grant scheme will be set up to help service providers, such as consultants, come up with creative workplace health programmes that companies can adopt. The board will put aside $200,000 from next July to fund it.

The move aims to encourage smaller businesses to provide activities that keep their employees in shape. Many could be hampered by the cost, said Mr Eugene The, general manager of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises' enterprise development centre.

'With financial support from the Health Promotion Board, I am certain that even more will come on board.'

Only two in five small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) run health-promotion programmes for their staff, according to the Workplace Health Prevalence Survey 2010.

Hotel Grand Pacific is one of those that does. Its staff cafeteria has a free fruit and salad bar, its 150 employees can take time off every day for a short stair-climbing exercise, and it runs regular organised activities such as walks.

As a result, each employee took an average of only 2.7 days of medical leave last year, down from 3.4 in 2006. And the firm now has no smokers, compared with 52 when it started its health promotion schemes in 2002. 'I told smokers to give me a written undertaking as to when they will quit,' said deputy general manager Albert Lai. 'It's good for everybody, even the non-smokers.'

The Health Promotion Board hopes that 80 per cent of the more than 150,000 SMEs in Singapore will be running similar programmes by 2015, said its chief executive Ang Hak Seng.

Meanwhile, Dr Khor strongly urged firms to do more for their employees' health yesterday in a speech at the National Conference on Workplace Health Promotion at Novotel Clarke Quay.

'Investing in a workplace health promotion programme to improve your employees' health is, very simply, the right thing to do,' she said.

One company already doing so is GlobalFoundries, which holds talks and workshops on mental well-being. It also has an exercise programme that offers employees activities ranging from dragon-boating to aerobics. 'By maintaining a healthy workforce, it translates into less absenteeism, increased productivity, reduced health-care costs and ultimately a much healthier bottom line,' said Mr Dan Steele, senior director of the firm's global environmental, health, safety and security operations.

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