Integrating the protection of worker safety and health with evidence-based health promotion is a strategic approach enhancing the safety, health, and well-being of the employee population and reducing costs for the organization. An integrate approach can reduce injuries; improve health; lower health claims, absenteeism, and workers compensation claims; and enhance overall wellbeing of the workforce and company.
In most organizations, there are many different departments addressing varying aspects of employee safety and health, including environmental health, workers compensation, disability management, risk management, safety management, facilities management, employee assistance programs, health benefits, occupational health, worksite health education/promotion, and wellness. These functions have overlapping missions, but often have little communication with each other and compete for resources.
Total Worker Health is a strategy integrating occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being (NIOSH). It brings all of the related puzzle pieces together to form a holistic framework for enhancing the safety and health of the workforce population.
Having a coordinated approach that leverages joint influences on health enables a company's safety and health professionals to work together to achieve common goals. For example, safety and health are inextricably linked for cumulative trauma disorders (Drennan 1). Workers who are in poor physical health are more likely to have musculoskeletal injury. Obesity has been linked to increased incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome, a common workers compensation claim. Excess weight and abdominal weakness strains the low back, and back injuries are a common cause of absenteeism. Health promotion and wellness professionals who want to reduce musculoskeletal disease can be more effective if they address the role that organization of work plays. Similarly, safety professionals who would like to reach and maintain a zero injury rate can be more effective if they can improve the health of the workforce. An example of an integrated approach for addressing musculoskeletal disease is an intervention that offers both health education on arthritis self-management strategies and ergonomic consultations for work conditions. Besides teaching employees about stretching, employers can also look at possible ways to reorganize work, providing job rotations and more job control.