Carla Pontes tells Kayleigh Lewis how Volkswagen is setting the benchmark for social responsibility in the healthcare of its employees
The Portuguese Volkswagen plant is one of the smaller of the company’s 60 or so plants globally with approximately 3600 employees, but despite this it has pioneered a healthcare programme – the Think Fit programme – which is now being discussed in other branches across the world.
Pontes explained that the “automotive industry is quite demanding” and that “there has been a lot of research done in terms of musculoskeletal diseases (MSDs)”. In the past there have been small programmes within the plant dedicated to specific injuries, but faced with new challenges, such as an ageing population and the need to ensure that the company remains both productive and competitive within the group, it became increasingly evident to Pontes that a more integrated and prevention-focused approach was needed. “We completely redesigned our occupational health programme,” Pontes said.
“Within this programme we created the medical restrictions programme which was designed for employees who have work-related diseases or already professional diseases related to strain injuries or MSDs. These issues were identified in the past but last year we designed a programme based on an integrated health risks management, shifting towards a preventive approach.”
“Our concerns were mainly related to access to proper healthcare. If our employees get sick it may be a financial constraint for them to access private hospitals or private clinics. We created this programme in order to benefit our employees. It’s a very big job but it’s within our social responsibility,” Pontes explained.
She said that the main challenge was to create the programme “as quickly as we could”, but the project had the backing of the plant’s “management team and key decision holders” which, as Pontes says, was “a major advantage”.
“We have a lot to show already because we are targeting prevention and the focus is active ageing”. Examples of this include designing new work stations along with the ergonomics team which take into consideration effects on the working population, allowing those employees with specific medical restrictions to have a tailored rotation plan to minimise future risk and ensure that existing conditions are not exacerbated.
“We have also designed a programme of warm-up exercises to keep people fit for work and we have implemented a global wellbeing way of life, creating incentives so that our population can adopt a healthy lifestyle.” Prevention programmes have also been designed to run alongside absenteeism and training programmes”, Pontes said, adding, “We try to keep people fit for work although they have medical restrictions”. And results are already being seen. “The production areas support the programme and accept our recommendations because they know we have done a thorough and normalised analysis using tailor made IT and ergonomic assessment tools, and we take an individualised approach as each employee has received a medical and ergonomic evaluation to obtain individual profile risk”, she said. This helps foster a better working environment for employees while maintaining a high level of productivity to ensure that the branch plant remains competitive.