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NIOSH’s Total Worker Health ™ - a Challenge to the EHS Profession

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Mar 12, 2013 11:01:00 AM

by Barbara Alves

NIOSH_Total_Workers_HealthAs part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) is founded on a mission “to provide national and world leadership to prevent workplace Illness and Injury”. 

Almost a decade ago, NIOSH began research to understand the correlation between workplace health and safety with overall worker health and initiated an improvement of communication between researchers and practitioners in the fields of health promotion and occupational safety and health. By bringing this collective approach to the worksite and by getting a better understanding of all the aggregate reasons for workplace absences, illnesses and injuries, prevention (and it’s expense) could be more tenable, and more attainable.    

Originally known as Steps to a Healthier US Workforce, in 2005 the name transitioned to the WorkLife Initiative, and in 2011 became Total Worker Health™ to better convey a more comprehensive approach to workplace prevention.  NIOSH promotes Total Worker Health as a strategy of integrating occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness, and as a way for American employers to meet the needs of the 21st century workforce.

NIOSH maintains that “the promise of a strong American economy depends upon an able, productive workforce. The health risks and challenges of today’s workers have never been starker. The American workforce is rapidly aging and is increasingly burdened by epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. Middle-aged and young workers are facing earlier onset of chronic health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes”.

NIOSH believes that “the safest and healthiest worker only evolves in an atmosphere where management is fully engaged in the wellbeing of its staff, where the environment is hazard-free and supportive, and where workplace policies and interventions encourage healthier choices--simply put, where the total health of the worker, in the broadest possible sense, is optimized”.

This past November, at the first symposium on Total Worker Health™, NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. proclaimed that, “occupational health is economic health.” Dr. Howard challenged occupational safety and health professionals and health promotion professionals to play a significant role in achieving the US’s return on investment in health promotion by integrating workplace safety and disease prevention at the workplace, and show the results.

The Total Worker Health, program encourages the evaluation of current approaches to health and work and promotes those practices which have been proven to improve the health of US workers.  This view encompasses both the workplace and home life.   It includes improvements to current methods of reducing risks related to the working environment, as well as education of employees about the choices they make which could result in injury or illness outside of work.  A decade of research has proven that there is a strong connection between worker health and safety in the work environment and worker health overall.  In order to make positive changes through any educational efforts, attention needs to be paid to both parts of workers’ lives. 

Currently, EHS professionals and employers can find resources on the NIOSH website such as Guidance Documents, Case Studies, Score Cards and Measurement Tools, and Health Based Calculators.

NIOSH has indicated that there will be a number of areas of future focus:

  • Development and implementation of stress-reduction efforts.
  • Implementation of training programs that help reduce workplace accidents.
  • Investigating better ergonomic solutions to avoid chronic injury.
  • Providing screening that looks at not only work-related factors but also factors outside of work.
  • Investigating ways in which all the current programs and initiatives can be combined under one umbrella.

For over 25 years, Emilcott has been providing environmental, health and safety consulting and training services to all types of industries for all types of operations. Why? Because we understand the hazards and what it takes to work and live safely around them.


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Topics: Emilcott, NIOSH, EHS, Environmental, Health and Safety Professionals, NIOSH Total Worker Health Program

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