UI research report highlights multiple dimensions of ‘Total Worker Health’
Monday, December 9, 2013

As health care and insurance costs have more than doubled in the last decade, employers are looking for ways to control costs while keeping workers healthy and productive.

An emerging holistic view of health is motivating employers to integrate traditional occupational safety and health protections with new strategies that promote the overall health and well-being of employees, according to research presented at a national symposium organized by investigators in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

The concept of Total Worker Health (TWH) brings together a variety of workplace programs intended to make employees healthier, safer, more productive, and more resilient by integrating standard health and safety practices, such as protecting workers from hazards like chemicals and noise, with health promotion measures, such as prevention screening programs, health information portals, incentive programs, and access to exercise facilities and primary care.

The latest TWH research, reviews, and practice recommendations, based on presentations at the Total Worker Health Symposium held at the UI in November 2012, have been collected in a special peer-reviewed supplement to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

“The benefits of workplace programs, policies, and practices that enhance employee well-being have been gaining recognition and approval over the past two decades, but the concept of Total Worker Health is still not widely understood—especially among smaller employers,” notes Dr. James Merchant, UI professor of occupational and environmental health and director of the Healthier Workforce Center for Excellence, based in the UI College of Public Health. “Our symposium and this new report are intended to help provide the research foundation for the Total Worker Health Program and assist employers and employees to realize the tremendous opportunity for a healthier, safer and more productive workforce.”

The report draws upon the expertise of national research leaders, corporate business executives, and state and national officials including John Howard, the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the symposium’s primary sponsor.

The concept of Total Worker Health brings together a variety of workplace programs intended to make employees healthier, safer, more productive, and more resilient.

“Total Worker Health is vital to the health of working men and women, private enterprise, and the nation's economy," says Howard.

Other business leaders highlighted the critical role of the workplace in securing better health.

“People spend a lot of time at work, and being in that environment for as long as they are, they have a lot of exposures from the environment, to relationships with people to interaction with tools and machines to the food that they eat,” says Dr. Martin Sepulveda, an IBM fellow and vice president. “To the extent that you can use each of these as opportunities to create and reinforce things that are good for people’s health, you can have an enormous influence that spills over to every other aspect of their lives.”

The Healthier Workforce Center for Excellence is one of four NIOSH Centers for Excellence committed to improving the health of workers in Iowa and nationally through integrated health promotion and health protection research, collaborations, and sharing of successful interventions. For more information, visit the center’s website or contact jennifer-l-hall@uiowa.edu.