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Vol. LXVII, No. 20
September 25, 2015
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‘Total Worker Health’ Programs Can Increase Employee Well-Being

On the front page...

Safety and health programs that protect employees from work-related injury and illness along with wellness programs that promote environments supportive of healthy living can help employees reach their full potential. So said Dr. Anita Schill at the 2015 NIH Safety, Health and Wellness Day in Kirschstein Auditorium, Bldg. 45.

Known as Total Worker Health Programs (TWHP), these types of programs “integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts—all in the name of advancing worker well-being,” said Schill, a senior science advisor to the director of CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Continued...

Dr. Antony Schwartz of ORS’s Division of Occupational Health and Safety was turned upside down on an inversion table, a device that decompresses a person’s spine, at the 2015 NIH Safety, Health and Wellness Day. The event included a keynote talk and multiple exhibits touching on all aspects of workplace well-being.

Dr. Antony Schwartz of ORS’s Division of Occupational Health and Safety was turned upside down on an inversion table, a device that decompresses a person’s spine, at the 2015 NIH Safety, Health and Wellness Day. The event included a keynote talk and multiple exhibits touching on all aspects of workplace well-being.

Photos: Ernie Branson

TWHPs follow several guiding principles, she noted. Participation must be voluntary, with privacy protections for sensitive individual information. Employees must have input into the program’s design. Incentives must be offered wisely. Finally, the program should always focus on long-term goals. Creating a culture that protects employees and promotes health takes time, she added.

NIOSH’s Dr. Anita Schill stressed the importance of health and wellness programs that protect employees from work-related injury and promote healthy lifestyles.
NIOSH’s Dr. Anita Schill stressed the importance of health and wellness programs that protect employees from work-related injury and promote healthy lifestyles.

Schill cited the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders, such as arthritis, to illustrate what the program looks like in the workplace. TWHPs provide ergonomic evaluations of office space while offering employees strategies, such as exercises and stretches, to manage arthritis.

This approach differs from traditional occupational safety and health protection programs and wellness programs that employers implement to fulfill legal requirements and to comply with relevant labor laws. Traditional programs are often managed by departments or offices that don’t interact with each other, despite having similar missions. One office, for instance, may focus on preventing workplace injuries independently of another office that focuses on promoting healthy lifestyles. The TWHP approach bridges the gap.

Implementing TWHPs also can reduce health care costs associated with workplace injuries. Schill estimates that 4 million workers experience nonfatal work-related injuries and illnesses each year. The cost of these injuries is estimated at $250 billion per year with indirect costs, such as productivity, responsible for most of the expense. Most costs are covered by Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance.

“These work-related injuries and illnesses contribute to rising health care costs and rising health care costs mean rising health insurance premiums for all of us,” she added.

staff from CYCLED! conduct spinning classes in Kirschstein Auditorium’s Balcony A, Bldg. 45.
Above, staff from CYCLED! conduct spinning classes in Kirschstein Auditorium’s Balcony A, Bldg. 45. Below, NCI’s Dr. Amanda Vandeveer (second from l) and Diane Poole show their first-place submission to the 2014 ORS Division of Occupational Safety and Health “In Focus! Safe Workplaces for All” photo contest. Nancy McLean-Cooper and Lydia Kibiuk (r) look on.
NCI’s Dr. Amanda Vandeveer (second from l) and Diane Poole show their first-place submission to the 2014 ORS Division of Occupational Safety and Health “In Focus! Safe Workplaces for All” photo contest. Nancy McLean-Cooper and Lydia Kibiuk (r) look on.

As obesity rates rise and the workforce ages, TWHPs are becoming more important, she said. A recent NIOSH-funded study found that increased stress levels at work led to higher levels of obesity. Stressors include limited decision-making ability, poor coworker support, heavy lifting, night work and physical assault.

“Obesity becomes a prime example where a Total Worker Health approach will benefit the end outcome of improved well-being,” she said.

Schill noted that employers can redesign jobs, give workers more freedom to make decisions, build social support systems and make jobs safer while “at the same time creating environments that enhance opportunities for physical activity and providing healthy food options.”

Today, there are more workers age 55 and older than ever before. She said employers must build flexible work arrangements to allow employees to take time off for doctor’s appointments, give workers tasks that match their capabilities and equip employees with the skills needed to thrive in a multigenerational workplace.

She cautioned that implementing TWHPs “takes dedication.” Despite the challenges, there are benefits for employers and employees. For example, she said, employers will be able to attract and retain the best workers, while employees will be healthier and have greater job satisfaction.

“When work is meaningful, energizing and exciting, your life is meaningful, energizing and exciting,” she said. “Great work fulfills our potential.”

For more information on TWHP, see www.cdc.gov/niosh/twh/totalhealth.html.


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