No boofheads, just fitter, focused blokes

13/01/2016 - 14:21

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Stephen Pollard reckons there aren’t many industries where uniforms come in size 5XL, but the chief executive of contracting and materials company All Earth Group, who spends his days surrounded by big equipment and a workforce of big blokes, is on a mission to prove less is more.

No boofheads, just fitter, focused blokes
FIT FOR PURPOSE: Diabetes WA’s Russell Cox (left) and All Earth Group’s Stephen Pollard have teamed up to help All Earth Group employees get healthy. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Stephen Pollard reckons there aren’t many industries where uniforms come in size 5XL, but the chief executive of contracting and materials company All Earth Group, who spends his days surrounded by big equipment and a workforce of big blokes, is on a mission to prove less is more.

Mr Pollard admits the pressures of work had led him in a decidedly unhealthy direction, so he decided late last year to lose weight, make healthier choices, and encourage his mostly male staff to follow suit.

Working with Diabetes WA, which has a dedicated men’s health department (in recognition of claims that up to 70 per cent of men in Australia are unknowingly overweight or obese), Mr Pollard recruited six of his 40 male colleagues for a voluntary workplace pilot program.

The ‘preventing obesity without eating like a rabbit’, or POWER, program appealed to Mr Pollard, who said many in the industry had long shunned diets, which they viewed as ‘alfalfa sprouts and fresh air’, in favour of deep fried food and calorie-rich beverages.

“I think the most important change for me was to recognise that this is for the long term. It’s taken for many of them from their apprenticeships to have gotten to this stage of bad habits,” he said.

“We needed to demystify and say it was okay that you had an opportunity to change your lifestyle.”

This leadership from the top was a key factor in Mr Pollard and participating staff losing an average of five kilos each over a 12-week period, which included the summer holidays, according to Diabetes WA men’s health project officer Russell Cox.

“He’s passionate about his workforce, about changing his health outcomes and theirs as well,” Mr Cox said.

Mr Cox said the program had helped the men reduce their body mass indices and waist measurements, and drink fewer alcoholic drinks, while recording lower levels of fatigue, spending less time sitting, and increasing their physical activity.

All of these changes have come about through small and incremental changes, such as Mr Pollard moving his mobile phone to the end of his office forcing him to get up to use it, parking further away from the office, and walking when he visits sites.

Participating All Earth Group staff members have been wearing pedometers, adding mini walks during the day, and cutting down (but not cutting out entirely) favourite foods and drinks.

A big benefit has been an increase in alertness, a valuable improvement for workers who can spend up to 14 hours each day operating heavy machinery.

“That’s not to say that they were not performing before, I just think that they will have a greater opportunity to be alert,” Mr Pollard said.

“We encourage them to get out and have a break and while they’re having a break go for a walk. That’s not easy to say to someone in 45 degree heat, but it’s part of ‘you’ve got to check your gear in any case’ so go for a walk.”

He has also noticed a change in attitude in his staff, prompting him to plan a second session of the program he hopes will attract more participants.

“I think it genuinely uplifted people. I’ve seen a change. They’re more positive,” Mr Pollard said.

“I’m a firm believer that a healthy mind is a safe mind and I think if they’ve got a healthier body they’re a safer person, and safety in our industry is paramount.”

One of the major hurdles Mr Pollard faced is what he calls the industry’s ‘boofhead culture’, where men view their large size as proof they are bulletproof.

“What I wanted to do was use the pilot program, brutally as an excuse, to say to people, ‘guys it’s ok’. I’m never going to be a coat hanger, but it doesn’t mean that I have five rolls (for lunch) and have to keep getting a bigger car,” Mr Pollard said.

“They’re presenting a healthier look for themselves and people have noticed that they’re looking slimmer and they’re looking brighter. They’ve all got young families and partners and it’s important that they understood in a supportive environment that it’s ok not to be a boofhead at work.”

Mr Cox said logistics and infrastructure company QUBE Holdings’ bulk division had expressed interest in the program, and he hoped to roll it out in more locations.

There are more than 102,000 people living with type 2 diabetes in WA, with men more likely to develop the disease, he said. 

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