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Advancing Worker Safety, Health and Well-Being Through Total Worker Health
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. Those challenges are very familiar to the staff here at the LHSFNA, where we make it our mission to improve the safety and health of LIUNA members and their families both on and off the job.
Because of this, it was a natural fit for the Fund to join the push for TWH back in 2015 by becoming one of the program’s affiliates. Since our presentation at the 1st International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health, we have continued to share information with NIOSH about the unique challenges facing TWH in the construction industry.
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,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “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 LHSFNA supports and promotes the concept of TWH through the work done by its Occupational Safety & Health and Health Promotion Divisions.
A Hierarchy of Controls for TWH
The traditional hierarchy of controls is well-known to occupational safety and health professionals. To show how TWH concepts can be applied by employers and other stakeholders, NIOSH created an updated conceptual model called the Hierarchy of Controls Applied to NIOSH Total Worker Health?. As in the traditional hierarchy, controls and strategies are presented in descending order of anticipated effectiveness and protectiveness. This conceptual hierarchy is not intended to replace the traditional hierarchy of controls. Instead, the goal is that it will serve to prioritize efforts and demonstrate how additional controls and strategies can more broadly advance worker well-being.
This new model, shown below, illustrates how TWH approaches focus on organizational-level interventions to protect workers’ safety, health and well-being.
The LHSFNA’s Involvement as a TWH Affiliate
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 the LHSFNA, as well as dozens of collaborations with professional associations, labor and health care organizations, academia, private industry and the public sector. This summer, during the TWH Affiliates Colloquium, NIOSH recognized three affiliates for their continued contributions to Total Worker Health. The LHSFNA was recognized as one of those affiliates for its work championing stronger workers’ voices and ownership of workplace policies, practices and programs related to worker well-being.
The Fund also contributed a chapter to the recently published book, Total Worker Health, which was published by the American Psychological Association. The book presents the history of Total Worker Health’s development as a concept and lays out prevention strategies being used in today’s workplaces to safeguard and ensure the health and well-being of workers.
The book contains contributions from over 60 researchers and practitioners at the forefront of the TWH field. Jamie F. Becker, Director, Health Promotion and Scott P. Schneider, retired Director, Occupational Safety and Health, jointly authored the chapter titled, A Labor-Management Approach to Addressing Health Risks in the Unionized Construction 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.
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]