For years, organizations and governments have focused on the occupational health and safety of employees. But much of that focus has been on preventing worksite accidents like slips and trips, or injuries from unsafe machinery. To augment this, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) introduced an important concept: Total Worker Health (TWH).

According to NIOSH, “TWH is a holistic approach to worker well-being. It acknowledges risk factors related to work that contribute to health problems previously considered unrelated to work.” [1]

With TWH, employers focus on keeping safety hazards out of the workplace, but the job shouldn’t stop there.

Employers embracing TWH are also encouraged to promote good health among their employees, working to prevent both acute and chronic illnesses in their workforce by creating a physical environment and work culture that fosters general well-being.

And for the skeptics out there who think focusing on worker wellness is a waste of time, keep reading for all the reasons why TWH can be a major positive for your organization.

Safety and Wellness: Two Halves of a Whole

Many organizations have wellness initiatives.

Many have taken steps to ensure safety.

But few have combined the two into one program, and that’s a mistake.

Why?

According to Canadian Occupational Safety magazine, “Research has emerged in recent years about the impact health has on safety and the organization as a whole, from reduced injuries to increased productivity and considerable financial savings.”

But in order to reap these rewards, experts say employers need to…

marry their OHS and wellness programming.”[2]

Let’s take a closer look at what that means.

Everyone knows that being tired on the job can be dangerous, especially with jobs that involve driving or operating heavy machinery.

Traditional OHS initiatives would focus solely on safeguards like mandatory shift-breaks and maximum numbers of consecutive shifts.

But what if the focus shifted entirely, and employees were given tools, tips, and guidance to enhance the quality of their sleep in the comfort of their own homes?

All of a sudden, you have people showing up for work well-rested, beginning their shifts in a far healthier—and safer—state of being.

When you combine wellness and safety, the benefits just keep coming.

[Number Ten Architect employees getting their exercise participating in the “United Way Plane Pull” led by Kelly Goodwin, one of our Certified Workplace Wellness Ambassadors.]

As we all know, unhealthy eating and poor nutrition/lifestyle habits can contribute to serious health conditions such as diabetes and other illnesses, and have the potential to contribute to or cause accidents and safety hazards on the job.

COS magazine cites the example of one oil-rig worker who was operating a crane, loading and unloading massive containers, even as diabetes was wreaking havoc on his vision.

Mike Wahl, senior director of wellness strategy and solutions at Horizon Occupational Health Solutions and the Medisys Health Group, described the employee’s situation: “His prescription was changing faster than they could send glasses out to the rig, so we tested his blood sugars and he was massively diabetic. He had little sugar particles stuck in his eyes. Once he controlled his diabetes, he was able to see again, but he was actually operating a heavy crane half-blind and (without health initiatives and wellness testing) it would have been another two years before he had another medical that would have picked it up.”[3]

Considering this example, it becomes clear that a focus on physical health improvements can significantly enhance employee safety in the workplace.

But what about mental well-being?

Do discussions of mental health belong in the realm of occupational safety?

Absolutely—and here’s why!

Mental Health: the Final Piece of the Occupational Safety Puzzle

Just as in the greater public, discussions of mental wellness and challenges still carry some stigma in the workplace. Yet, occupational stress is a major concern for employers and employees. In fact, according to L. Casey Chosewood, MD, MPH, and director of the new TWH program at NIOSH, “Mental health challenges and the opioid overdose and suicide epidemics are devastating many in our workforce.”

Mental health conditions are a leading cause of disability and are costly for many employers.

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Underlying mental health concerns or diagnoses impact productivity day in and day out, and they can often slow the return to work after workers face other injuries and illnesses, whether work-related or not.

The quality of the job and the demands of the work are critical to consider here, not just personal risk factors.

We know that fast-paced work, high job demands, job insecurity, and low wages in many work settings may increase risks for poor mental health outcomes. Safety pros and HR professionals should increase their comfort around these issues and be ready to help. [4]

Ready to jumpstart your organization’s commitment to Total Worker Health?

Here are six steps you can take, right now, that Dr. Chosewood posits will help mitigate or prevent workplace stressors:

  1. Maximize day-to-day flexibility offered to workers.
  2. Address job insecurity whenever possible.
  3. Give workers a voice; participatory approaches are critical, especially in times of change.
  4. Healthier supervision—train supervisors to understand the connections between work and health; improve their recognition, reward, and support skills.
  5. Provide meaningful work and the resources to do it well.
  6. Improve the work/life interface.
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About the author:

Lisa Kelly, President, Workplace Wellness Centre of Excellence (a division of KWC Inc.), has been cultivating healthy changes within workplaces and with personal clients for over 20 years. Through her “Workplace Wellness Leadership Certification Series” and Executive Wellness Leadership Programs, Lisa’s mission is to create an innovative and collaborative landscape for global workplace wellness that fosters employee-driven, results-oriented wellness solutions to benefit employers, employees, and communities at large.

Sources:

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/twh/default.html

[2] https://www.cos-mag.com/occupational-hygiene/37529-is-it-time-to-marry-safety-and-wellness/: “Is it Time to Marry Safety and Wellness?”

[3] https://www.cos-mag.com/occupational-hygiene/37529-is-it-time-to-marry-safety-and-wellness/: “Is it Time to Marry Safety and Wellness?”

[4] https://ehsdailyadvisor.blr.com/2019/08/addressing-total-worker-health-in-your-safety-culture-a-qa-with-l-casey-chosewood-md-mph/


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