British Columbia

Workplace health and wellness toolkit built by men for men

Getting northern B.C. men to engage with traditional health programs hasn't been working, according to researchers. Now, a program that was created with the help of actual labourers in male-dominated workplaces is beginning to catch on in the north.

'Masculine look and feel' includes design elements, strategic language and messaging

Powerplay is tailored to appeal to men working in male-dominated industries such as mining, logging and truck driving. (Getty Images)

A branding strategy that has a "masculine look and feel," is at the centre of a workplace health program that hopes to reach men in male-dominated industries in northern British Columbia.

Powerplay: Men's Health at Work was developed through research and focus groups with men working for northern trucking companies at the Ridley Island coal terminal in Prince Rupert, as city workers in Terrace and as employees of a chemical plant in Prince George.

"We know that men have higher rates of chronic disease than women in rural and northern communities," said Joan Bottorff, the director of the Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention at the University of British Columbia.

"We found out they're actually pretty interested in health and being healthy,"  Bottorff told Robert Doane, host of CBC's Daybreak North

She said the research team heard from many workers who wanted to make sure they were healthy, so they would be able to continue working and supporting their families. 

Making it work

Former trucker Ralph Bowler was a driver supervisor at  Lomak Bulk Carriers in Prince George while the study was underway and said the program helps reduce workplace injuries.

"Truck driving by its nature is a lot of sitting," said Bowler, who estimated that truckers spend about eight hours sitting each day.

In recent years, trucks have become more comfortable and easier to drive, meaning even less activity occurs in the cab of a truck than it used to, according to Bowler.

Truck drivers often go from sitting for long periods to sudden bursts of strenuous activity when it's time to load and unload cargo.

"We taught them to do little things while they were driving that didn't affect the safety aspect of the driving but prepared them for when they had to get out of the truck," Bowler said.

Competitive spirit

To find out what would get men to pay attention, they asked them.

Bottorff said the takeaway was that messages needed to be direct and clear and that men were more likely to participate in healthy eating and physical activity if challenged to do so through friendly competition.

The program is structured around a series of challenges like the Fuel Up Challenge where participants are encouraged to work as a "hockey team," scoring goals by eating well and exercising.

In the "Step Up challenge," teams have four weeks to accumulate the most steps while travelling along the 2,775 kilometre Great Northern Circle Route. Steps are tracked on smart phones and with pedometers.

"We learned that if we could engage men in working together to change their healthy eating and physical activity, it really resonated with them," said Bottorff.

A recently added program module called the Heads Up Challenge focuses on mental health and wellness by encouraging random acts of kindness and promoting teamwork. 

With files from CBC Radio One's Daybreak North