Transforming the workplace environment to prevent non-communicable chronic diseases : participatory action research in a South African power plant
CITATION: Schouw, D., Mash, R. & Kolbe-Alexander, T. 2018. Transforming the workplace environment to prevent non-communicable chronic diseases : participatory action research in a South African power plant. Global Health Action, 11(1):1544336, doi:10.1080/16549716.2018.1544336.
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Background: The workplace is an important setting for the prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Policies for transformation of the workplace environment for occupational health and safety in South Africa have focused more on what to do and less on how to do it. There are no guidelines and little evidence on workplace-based interventions for NCDs. Objective: The aim of this study was to learn how to transform the workplace environment in order to prevent and control cardio-metabolic risk factors for NCDs amongst the workforce at a commercial power plant in Cape Town, South Africa. Methods: The study design utilized participatory action research in the format of a cooperative inquiry group (CIG). The researcher and participants engaged in a cyclical process of planning, action, observation and reflection over a two-year period. The group used outcome mapping to define the vision, mission, boundary partners, outcomes and strategies required. At the end of the inquiry the CIG reached a consensus on their key learning. Results: Substantial change was observed in the boundary partners: catering services (78% of progress markers achieved), sport and physical activities (75%), health and wellness services (66%) and managerial support (65%). Highlights from a 10-point consensus on key learning included the need for: authentic leadership; diverse composition and functioning of the CIG; value of outcome mapping; importance of managerial engagement in personal and organizational change; and making healthy lifestyle an easy choice. Conclusion: Transformation included a multifaceted approach and an engagement with the organization as a living system. Future studies will evaluate changes in the risk profile of the workforce, as well as the costs and consequences for the organization.