Rwanda, on the World Day for Safety and Health at Work held on Thursday, May 25, launched a workplace wellness programme. The day is celebrated annually on April 28, but Rwanda celebrated it on May 25. The Minister for Public Service and Labour, Fanfan Kayirangwa Rwanyindo said that the Workplace Wellness Programme aims to ensure a safe and healthy workforce and boost productivity since workers are at the centre stage of business growth. She said that the programme should provide employees with tools and opportunities that should make it easier to adopt and maintain a healthier lifestyle. “Each of us is responsible for preventing occupational risks. As Governments, we are responsible for providing the infrastructure which includes policies and laws necessary and ensure their implementation,” she said noting that there is a need to create occupational safety and health culture where the highest priority is accorded to the principle of prevention. According to Rwanyindo, there is massive financial gain from investing in corporate wellness programmes. “This is because they recognize that prevention reduces the ever-rising healthcare costs and creates a cost-effective environment for businesses. Institution’s productivity and profits are directly impacted by the wellness of its workforce,” she noted. The programme implementation will take three years focusing on awareness about safety and health benefits and measures to be taken. Patrick Kananga, the Chief Labour Administrator at the labour ministry, said that under the wellness programme, “occupational safety and health committees will be set up and workplace risk assessment by employers will be carried out.” “Ensuring the establishment of health corners at the workplace and physical activities at the workplace, promoting nutrition and health diet, regular health surveillance and medical check-ups as well as awareness among non-communicable diseases are among actions,” he said. Why wellness programme is needed Francois Uwinkindi, the Manager of Non-Communicable Diseases Division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said that occupational risks and living environment are among the causes of non-communicable diseases which kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 74 per cent of all deaths globally. “Occupational risks and living environment account for 23 per cent of global deaths,” he said. Considering NCDs risk factors and type of work or occupation, he said 44.6 per cent of government employees in Rwanda are overweight due to a lack of a safer working environment. “Some hardworking people prioritize their job over health. They skip lunch and stay up late to get the job done. They don’t have time to exercise because they work all the time & eat fast food. And they never take a sick or personal day,” Uwinkindi explained. About 26 per cent of low back pain has been estimated to be work-related and 3.2 per cent to 4.6 per cent of all cancer deaths are due to occupational exposure as 123.3 million days are lost globally due to work-related injuries and illnesses globally. There has been an increase in the number of occupational injuries in Rwanda, from 754 occupational injuries in 2017-2018 to 1,467 in 2022-2023. RSSB calls for action The Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) CEO, Regis Rugemanshuro, said that research has revealed that an unconducive work environment can lead to many long-term health conditions. As a result, he said, incapacity benefits-benefits paid to social security members who cannot work because of illness and disability including non-communicable diseases have increased from Rwf264 million to Rwf768 million in 2022. “This affects not only employees and their families but also the enterprises' productivity and the overall country’s economy,” he said. In 2021, in the WHO and ILO joint report on the work-related burden of diseases, it was estimated that every year, about two million people die from exposure to risk factors in the workplace. “In our records, we have seen a 14% year-on-year increase in occupational diseases and accidents in the last 4 years, despite a well-known under-reporting of such cases. There is an urgent call for action to provide a conducive working environment to our employees,” Rugemanshuro said. He urged employers to influence behavior change in places of work and provide a safer working environment, saying it is key to the success of the wellness programme that has been launched. “RSSB commits to support the capacity building that will enable the implementation of the workplace wellness program,” he said. He said that awareness of healthy lifestyles and early detection of health conditions are proven to be some cost-effective interventions for keeping people healthy and productive. However, he informed, the turn-up to health facilities for check-ups remains very low among eligible populations. “RSSB, through its corporate social responsibility budget, is committed to making a humble financial contribution to non-communicable diseases screening and education programmes targeting employees at their workplace, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and other partners,” he said.