Fit for Business
Companies are leading the way in ‘duty of care’ towards their employees, offering health, fitness and wellbeing plans in the workplace, but are these simply short-term solutions? Or do they encourage an overworked nation to establish a work/life balance?
While our awareness of keeping fit and healthy has increased, it has also extended into the workplace, encouraged by schemes like those run by Corporate Fitness Works. They serve the health, fitness and recreation needs of businesses and industries in the US, and are certified by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). The non-profit fitness advocate also promotes the benefits of physical activity, a lifeline in a country where obesity is now an epidemic.
According to a report by the BBC in March 2004, obesity costs American companies US$13billion a year, a figure which could do with trimming down. However, employee wellness schemes in the US are paying off, literally. A study by CBS Evening News in January 2007, showed that for every one dollar organizations spend on employeesí health, they can save three dollars in health care.
Speaking to Grant Thornton about its wellbeing policy during the company’s National Wellbeing Week, Margaret Bowler, Head of CR, explained, “We want to create an environment where our people are aware of their own responsibility for their health and safety, and their wellbeing – we will facilitate it, and encourage it, and give them all the tools they need for it.”
Bowler was keen to emphasize that the aim of all this is not to create a “nanny state” but simply an awareness, so that the responsibility lies equally with the employer and employee. According to Bowler, Grant Thornton is not telling its employees they have to exercise but gently reminding them. A number of themes such as exercise, nutrition, mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and fitness, drive the activities that take place throughout the company’s offices.
Grant Thornton has identified two major risks that it feels its employees are subject to in the office environment: multiskeletal disorder and stress. In fact, Bowler believes that multiskeletal disorders are “the asbestos of the future”. With most of the population owning a laptop, the Head of CR is convinced that lack of training is doing irreparable damage to the back that will cause problems later in life, “I don’t think we’ve yet seen the repercussions of that from an employment perspective,” she adds.
Like Grant Thornton, White Water Strategies is focused on exercise and physical alignment, along with nutrition, rest and relaxation, all of which come together to form what Director Averil Leimon describes as “a corporate athlete”, or “a model of human excellence”. “It’s a survival strategy because it’s tough out there and it’s not going to get any less challenging and people need to be honed for action,” she explains.
In the current climate particularly, increased health, fitness and wellbeing could indeed reduce the risk of stress in the workplace. For Leimon, it is a particularly important and interesting time, “At the moment many of the people reaching senior posts have not been through a downturn. They haven’t dealt with the depressed market, they haven’t dealt with not having success at every turn.” As Leimon sees it, “In order for businesses to come through the tough markets ahead , they need their people to be resilient and fit to lead - that will protect the individual and give the organization the best chance of success and survival”.
Survival of the fittest
Leimon recalls how similar workplace strategies were alive and well decades ago, “I started working in the stress field in the early 80s, and there were fabulous companies then. As well as doing health and stress management, there were some very innovative things going on that long ago.” She argues that the requisite gym memberships offered by organizations today, simply ‘tick a box’, as companies vie to demonstrate concern for employees’ mental and physical fitness in order to avoid litigation. White Water Strategies takes a more realistic approach, realizing that most business leaders do not want a 50/50 work/life balance as such, the firm helps business leaders discover those aspects of life that sustain them.
Certainly it is all too easy to take a cynical view of an organization’s increasing interest in its employees’ health. Leimon sees two sides to it, “On the one hand there’s the understanding that if people are healthy they’re going to function better. There is also the negative side that people want not to be faced with litigation for stress, for instance. I think there are some places with a growing awareness, but there’s a long way to go.”
At Grant Thornton, Bowler explains her theory behind employers’ increasing need to demonstrate a duty of care to their employees, “I think it reflects society that people want different things from their employer – it’s a badge of who they are, and they want to work with the organizations that care about the impact they make on people as individuals.”
For now, as long as health schemes offered by organizations are well-managed, and feedback from employees is monitored, there is no reason why an increased awareness of managing health and wellbeing in the workplace should not become standard practice among employers.
The challenges to vaccine distribution affecting everyone
While it is comforting to know that vaccines against COVID-19 are showing remarkable efficacy, the world still faces intractable challenges with vaccine distribution. Specifically, the sheer number of vaccines required and the complexity of global supply chains are sure to present problems we have neither experienced nor even imagined.
Current projections estimate that we could need 12-15 billion doses of vaccine, but the largest vaccine manufacturers produce less than half this volume in a year. To understand the scale of the problem, imagine stacking one billion pennies – you would have a stack that is 950 miles high. Now, think of that times ten. This is a massive problem that one nation can’t solve alone.
Even if we have a vaccine – can we make enough? Based on current projections, Pfizer expects to produce up to 1.3 billion doses this year. Moderna is working to expand its capacity to one billion units this year. Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, is likely to produce 60% of the 3 billion doses committed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. This leaves us about 7 billion doses short.
Expanding vaccine production for most regions in the world is complicated and time-consuming. Unlike many traditional manufacturing operations that can expand relatively quickly and with limited regulation, pharmaceutical production must meet current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) guidelines. So, not only does it take time to transition from R&D to commercial manufacturing, but it could also take an additional six months to achieve CGMP certification.
The problem becomes even more complex when considering the co-products required. Glass vials and syringes are just two of the most essential co-products needed to produce a vaccine. Last year, before COVID-19, global demand for glass vials was 12 billion. Even if it is safe to dispense ten doses per vial, there is certain to be significant pressure on world supply of the materials needed to package and distribute a vaccine.
It is imperative drug manufacturers and their raw material suppliers have clear visibility of production plans and raw material availability if there is any hope of optimizing scarce resources and maximising production yield.
It is widely known by now that temperature is a critical factor for the COVID-19 vaccine. Even the regions with the most developed logistics infrastructures and resources needed to support a cold-chain network are sure to struggle with distribution.
For the United States alone, State and local health agencies have determined distribution costs will exceed $8.4 billion, including $3 billion for workforce recruitment and training; $1.2 billion for cold-chain, $1 billion vaccination sites and $0.5 billion IT upgrades.
The complexity of the problem increases further when considering countries such as India that do not have cold-chain logistics networks that meet vaccine requirements. Despite India’s network of 28,000 cold-chain units, none are capable of transporting vaccines below -25°Celsius. While India’s Serum Institute has licensed to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which can reportedly be stored in standard refrigerated environments, even a regular vaccine cold chain poses major challenges.
Furthermore, security will undoubtedly become a significant concern that global authorities must address with a coordinated solution. According to the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, theft and counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products rose nearly 70% over the past five years. As with any valuable and scarce product, counterfeits will emerge. Suppliers and producers are actively working on innovative approaches to limit black-market interference. Corning, for example, is equipping vials with black-light verification to curb counterfeiting.
Clearly, this is a global problem that will require an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination.
Disconnected information systems
While it is unreasonable to expect every country around the world will suddenly adopt a standard technology that would provide immediate, accurate and available information for everyone, it is not unreasonable to think that we can align on a standard taxonomy that can serve as a Rosetta Stone for collaboration.
A shared view of the situation (inventory, raw materials, delivery, defects) will provide every nation with the necessary information to make life-saving decisions, such as resource pooling, stock allocations and population coverage.
By allowing one central authority, such as the World Health Organization, to organize and align global leaders to a single collaboration standard, such as GS1, and a standard sharing protocol, such as DSCSA, then every supply chain participant will have the ability to predict, plan and execute in a way that maximises global health.
Political influence and social equality
As if we don’t have enough stress and churn in today’s geopolitical environment, we must now include the challenge of “vaccine nationalism.” While this might not appear to be a supply chain problem, per se, it is a critical challenge that will hinge on supply chain capabilities.
In response to the critical supply issues the world experienced with SARS-CoV-2, the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) formed Covax: a coalition dedicated to equitable distribution of 2 billion doses of approved vaccines to its 172 member countries. Covax is currently facilitating a purchasing pool and has made commitments to buy massive quantities of approved vaccines when they become available.
However, several political powerhouse countries, such as the United States and Russia, are not participating. Instead, they are striking bilateral deals with drug manufacturers – essentially, competing with the rest of the world to secure a national supply. Allocating scarce resources is never easy, but when availability could mean the difference between life and death, it becomes almost impossible.
Global production, distribution and social equality present dependent yet conflicting realities that will demand global supply chains provide complete transparency and an immutable chain of custody imperative to vaccine distribution.
The technology is available today – we just need to use it. We have the ability to track every batch, pallet, box, vile and dose along the supply chain. We have the ability to know with absolute certainty that the vaccine is approved, where and when it was manufactured, how it was handled and whether it was compromised at any point in the supply chain. Modern blockchain technologies should be applied so that every nation, institution, regulator, doctor and patient can have confidence in knowing that they are making an impact in eradicating COVID-19.