|Dr. L. Casey Chosewood
NIH staff pour endless hours into work that aids the well-being of millions of people across the country. But on Aug. 27, the focus was on health and safety in NIH’s own backyard.
The NIH campus is a lot like a small town, noted Dr. Lawrence Tabak, NIH principal deputy director, at the second annual Safety, Health & Wellness Day. The campus has some 20,000 workers, a police force, power plants and more. NIH has the safety concerns of any small town, Tabak noted, but hazards such as dangerous chemicals and infectious agents can make safety a particular challenge.
“The safety and well-being of our patients, visitors and our greatest resource—our employees—have to be our top priority,” Tabak said.
So how can leaders at NIH—and workplaces everywhere—support and protect their employees?
The best employers will not only keep employees safe, but also will actively promote their health, argued guest speaker Dr. L. Casey Chosewood of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal is that “workers don’t go home at the end of the day with the same level of health as they arrived—they actually go home with more health,” said Chosewood, senior medical officer for Total Worker Health Programs at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
CDC and NIH employees often face tough circumstances and serious hazards, said Chosewood. They work in places such as African villages, post-hurricane New Orleans and maximum containment labs. Clinical staff, he added, witness illness and death every day. And night work and long hours only intensify the strain.
Still, despite such challenges, Chosewood said, the greatest dangers these workers face are usually the same ones that threaten the well-being of other Americans, including obesity, tobacco abuse, accidents and chronic diseases.
To combat obesity and promote physical activity, Chosewood recommended creating environments that encourage walking. Paths that lead to eateries, ATMs and other popular destinations can motivate movement, he said. At CDC, he noted, employees helped build one path. “Not only did they get some physical activity creating the space,” he said, “[but also] they will use the space because they helped create it.”
Chosewood said, “The intersection of work and health can be a magical place.” Workers can go home healthier than when they arrived on the job, he noted.
Photos: Bill Branson
What else spurs healthy behaviors? In addition to physical environment, policies and cultures are key to change, said Chosewood. “It’s expensive to go to [you as] individuals to try to change your behavior,” he noted, “but if I create an environment where the default outcome is more health for you and every other person in the space, it’s very economical—and it’s more powerful.”
Of course, change can be hard. Chosewood acknowledged, for example, that it was tough for NIH to go tobacco-free. But, he argued, “for every new person who comes into the [workplace], it will be just the way it is. There will be no upset related to that policy,” he said. “That’s the power of a policy change.”
Chosewood advised those who want to encourage healthy changes to emphasize the opportunities that health creates, whether the chance to play with your grandkids, travel—or work longer at your job. Work itself, Chosewood noted, can offer health benefits, including a sense of purpose.
“The intersection of work and health can be a magical place,” he concluded. “I want to inspire you to do all you can to make the intersection of work and health as powerful as it can be.”
After his talk, participants could jump into numerous health opportunities, from fitness assessments to veggie tastings and from ergonomics demonstrations to relaxing massages.
The event also recognized winners of the NIH Mission First, Safety Always Award. Winners were announced by Office of Research Services director Dr. Alfred Johnson and NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman, who noted that NIH has one of the best safety records for laboratory workers in the country.
To watch a videocast of the event, visit http://videocast.nih.gov. To learn more about CDC’s Total Worker Health Program, go to www.cdc.gov/niosh/twh.