Aragon Valley Classic: Healthy Workplaces, the breaking trend already existing in the 1920 decade

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Healthy workplaces are those in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace [1].

Nowadays, a wide range of specific actions exist, embraced under the health workplace model,  covering four main aspects of the organizations:

  • physical work environment;
  • psychosocial work environment;
  • personal health resources in the workplace;
  • corporate participation in the community.

In practice, despite that the firsts recognized healthy workplace models arose among the biggest multinational corporations -mainly North American- at the end of the 20th century, it was in recent years when the concept of healthy workplaces emerged on a massive scale throughout the organizations.

Today, the term healthy workplace is automatically linked to desired concepts like work-life balance, companies adapted to the globalization and demographical changes, to new organizational models or the innovative use of new technologies.

In addition, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work´s campaigns -considered the most important ones in the world about the topic- are gathered under the same denomination: Healthy Workplaces.

There is even a healthy workplaces certification recently launched under models from renowned bodies [2], which in Spain hold at the moment just a bunch of companies.

In a nutshell, healthy workplaces are a breaking tendency.


So, that´s why I got -in some way- surprised while reading one of the relics I have bringing a content not easy to find on the Internet: this Spanish book from 1929  “Elementos de Higiene Industrial” [3] (“Industrial Hygiene elements”)

As with the posters collection of the National Archive of Catalonia, the advertisements on labor health in the 1920 decade were similar to the messages disseminated today under the new healthy workplace concept.

“The industrial hygienist […] must not only foster good health conditions in the factories and workshops but must encourage (the worker) to follow good health practices also outside the workplace”

Under this main premise, the book contains a huge amount of specific actions which, with the own nuances of those years (which are indeed curious and even fun), may be today valid as an initiatives catalogue for the most demanding and cutting edge organizations:

  • Promotion of the mental and physical health, as a way of life beyond the work:

“[…] (the worker) will go for outside walks to provide fresh air to his body and will loot for the spiritual solace”

  • Food related to the professional activity:

“The quality and amount of these elements (food) are always key for the proper functioning of the machine (the body)”

  • Physical exercises according to the profession:

“[…] physical education aims to increase the individual energy so that the personal qualities are conspicuously improved and there are more skilled (human) beings for work.”

“It was proved […] that the year average of sick leaves is significantly lower among workers taking up systematically the sporting culture”

“To choose a sport according to the profession. […] It is necessary to link always the profession with the sport”

  • Organizational measures under the main premise that “no work clearly disproportionate with the suitable energy will be performed”, including the establishment of daily effort threshold, breaks during working time, training and ergonomic studies;
  • Facilities to perform activities in the own workplace:

“Industrial colonies […] with mutualities, company stores, sort clubs etc.”

  • The book contains specific sections focused even on social vices related to work such as alcoholism and smoking.

“[…] vice brings bad physical constitutions and drives soon or later to the work abandonment”

These, among many other aspects, are technically developed in detail and make me think that maybe the healthy workplaces in the 1920 decade were not so different to today´s ones.

[1] WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION. Ambientes de trabajo saludables: un modelo para la acción. 2010. Consulted 20 jun 2014. 
[2] AENOR. Certificación empresa saludable. 2012. Consulted 20 jun 2014.
[3] OLIVERAS DEVESA Mario, SOLER DOPFF Carlos. 1929. Elementos de Higiene Industrial. Librería Bosch. III Elementos fundamentales de la higiene personal del obrero.

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