The virtues and values of Total Worker Health

Integrating workplace safety and personal wellness reduces the frequency and severity of worker injuries.

posted August 09, 2016

Total Worker Health

By Sabrina Freewynn, SAIF Total Worker Health Consultant

You may have heard about Total Worker Health® or seen mention of it in previous Comp Focus issues. But what is it? Total Worker Health is defined by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as "policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being."

In other words, it's a way of thinking about, and acting on, safety and wellness together.

A series of studies have found a link between chronic health conditions—such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes—and the frequency and severity of worker injuries. When employees are healthy, they're more alert and attentive, which leads to fewer injuries and near-misses. Total Worker Health doesn't stop at the office door either. It extends to home and community.

Easy ways to implement Total Worker Health

The physical environment, policies, and practices at a worksite can reduce the number of injuries. The same is true of supporting health. For all the employees trying to lose or maintain their weight, doughnuts in the breakroom are like a water spill on the floor—they can lead to slips! To support your employees in their health goals, try providing fresh fruit instead, or even a recess break.

Model ways to build physical activity into your day by taking breaks for physical activity and holding walking meetings. Empower your employees to do so, too. Reduce stress for employees by going beyond the employee assistance program. Take actions like considering workloads, providing opportunities for learning and career development, and giving context and meaning for assigned tasks.

When you integrate safety and health from a Total Worker Health perspective, you'll be building on a strong foundation. The State of Oregon has a number of policies and practices in place that support overall employee health and well-being. Examples are:

  • Tobacco-free campuses
  • Quality health insurance benefits, including access to self-management programs such as Weight Watchers and tobacco cessation
  • Health Engagement Model (HEM)
  • Retirement benefits and counseling
  • Policies for flexible schedules and overtime compensation

Your agency or university can build on this foundation and add your own policies and practices. Start with management support and leadership buy-in. Involve employees in developing the program and identifying key areas for change.

Remember, important changes take time. Be patient and persistent in your pursuit of Total Worker Health.

For additional information on Total Worker Health, check out the following SAIF resources or contact your safety consultant.

Promote health

Safety: What's health got to do with it?

Additional resources include:

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Total Worker Health®

Want to know how healthy state employees are? Want to learn more about chronic disease prevention? The State of Oregon has a unique resource that few other employers have: The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey of State Employees provides information about state employee health and wellness, including risk and protective factors. Find the most recent report.


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