Advancing Worker Safety, Health and Well-Being Through Total Worker Health

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Richard Palladino of Local 91.


By: Randy Palladino

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) created the term Total Worker Health (TWH) as a way to address the complex, often interlinked hazards affecting the health, safety and well-being of today’s workforce. Total Worker Health is defined as policies, programs and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with the promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being. For example, TWH advocates for designing work to eliminate or reduce safety and health hazards. With keeping workers safe as its foundational goal, TWH builds on this approach through the recognition that work has a big impact on various aspects of our lives, including both physical and mental health, as well as overall well-being. Both labor and management are being affected by issues like the opioid crisis and increasing rates of suicide and workplace violence. These types of issues fall under the safety umbrella just as much as protecting workers from falls, electrocutions or any other potential jobsite hazard, and they also affect workers off the job.

Total Worker Health provides a platform from which to address issues previously not considered in workplaces. The traditional hierarchy of controls is well-known to occupational safety and health professionals. This new model, illustrates how TWH approaches focus on organizational-level interventions to protect workers’ safety, health and well-being. From top down NIOSH lists:

ELIMINATE working conditions that threaten safety, health and well-being;

SUBSTITUTE  health enhancing policies, programs and practices;

REDESIGN the work environment for safety, health and well-being;

EDUCATE for safety and health;

ENCOURAGE personal change.

The mission of the TWH affiliate program is to foster an integrated approach to protecting and promoting worker well-being through collaborations with non-profit and government organizations. That program now includes 48 affiliates, including dozens of collaborations with professional associations, labor and health care organizations, academia, private industry and the public sector. We believe TWH is the approach to take now and as we move towards improved injury and illness prevention. Embracing a comprehensive approach such as TWH can help demonstrate leadership commitment from both labor and management to improving worker safety and health at all levels of an organization.


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