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The challenge of employee health

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Oilfield Technology,

When it comes to employee health, there is arguably no more challenging industry than oil and energy. The combination of inhospitable work environments, long stints away from friends and family, and noisy and dangerous heavy machinery poses a unique set of risks for workers and their employers.

Offshore operations are a good example of just how dangerous the work can be, both physically and mentally, with operators often working 7 to 14 days in a row, 12 hours a day. And with drilling crews frequently required to live on ships anchored nearby, or in facilities on the platform itself, the pressure from these demanding schedules can be compounded by an ‘always on’ lifestyle. As the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes: “Many oilfield workers are away from home for weeks or months at a time. Exploration field personnel and drilling workers frequently move from place to place as work at a particular field is completed.”

Employers in the industry understand they have a duty of care to maintain a safe and secure working environment that includes mental as well as physical health – and many defer to their international health insurer for support. International health insurance has always provided access to first-class medical care. Moreover, some insurers are now offering a more holistic approach that is both proactive and reactive, taking a more rounded view of employees’ healthcare needs.

At the core of this new approach are preventative care and targeted intervention strategies, designed to provide better mental and physical health and a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.

The approach begins with employee health assessments, conducted both face to face and remotely, to help insurers identify staff members with specific conditions and offer them targeted specialty care programmes. The goal is to tackle any condition before it becomes chronic and more difficult and expensive to treat.

At a group level, targeted wellness programmes can raise the general health levels of all employees. In an age of Big Data, analysing claims data makes it possible for insurers to help companies monitor and tackle the specific health-care trends of their unique employee populations. An insurer might uncover an unexpectedly high incidence of a disease like malaria, for example, that is reducing productivity at a site. The company can then roll out an action plan – such as educating workers on the importance of taking the correct medicine dosage – to address the problem.

In the oil and energy industry, mental health can be a particularly widespread and difficult issue, especially for workers on rigs or in remote outposts. The social stigma surrounding mental issues is being reduced through a number of global and national campaigns, but this remains a barrier to diagnosis.

Although psychological issues remain challenging to diagnose, new developments and programmes being offered by insurers are helping with treatment and prevention. Most now offer employee assistance programmes (EAPs). These helplines are manned by trained counsellors armed with a wide range of solutions to help employees deal with loneliness, stress and anxiety.

Also exciting is the emergence of ‘virtual health’ and ‘telemedicine,’ which has made a huge difference in the quality of life of many employees. For office-based staff working in an urban environment, arranging and travelling to a doctor’s appointment can be inconvenient. But for those in more remote environments, it can be a real challenge. In these instances, allowing access to qualified doctors through their computers or mobile devices can literally be a life-saver. Access to virtual health saves members travel time, but more importantly, facilitates early intervention.

Providing risk information by country is another relatively recent innovation in the international private medical insurance industry. Many insurers can now help employers and individual workers understand the personal safety risks they may face when travelling abroad. This allows for intelligent contingency planning, or even for trips to be abandoned where the risk is too great.

The support services provided by international health insurers are particularly important for oil and energy workers, who often face unique and unusual personal safety risks and health-related challenges. The services insurers provide go far beyond just treating medical conditions after they emerge. Their proactive and timely approach helps keep employee populations healthy and productive anywhere around the globe, regardless of whether work on or offshore.

Written by Damian Lenihan, Executive Distribution Director, Aetna International.

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