Total Worker Health: Getting and Staying Healthy in the Workplace
For the last several years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been promoting a concept called “Total Worker Health,” which combines safety programs to prevent accidents on the job with health promotion programs such as smoking cessation. The idea is that emerging evidence recognizes that both work-related factors and health factors that are often beyond the workplace together contribute to many health and safety problems for employees and their families.
A new report in the CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) shows why the combination can be critical, finding that the risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke is higher for blue-collar and service workers than it is for white-collar workers. Studies have suggested that before, but the new MMWR recommends strategies that companies can implement to reduce that risk.
In the new report, CDC researcher Sarah Luckhaupt, MD, analyzed National Health Interview Survey data for 2008-2012. She found that the prevalence of a history of CHD or stroke among people ages 18 to 55 was 1.9 percent for employed adults, but among the employed the risk was 40 percent higher in blue-collar workers (e.g. construction workers and truck drivers) and 53 percent higher in service workers (e.g. hairdressers and restaurant servers). Luckhaupt says that job stress, shift work, exposure to particulate matter, noise and secondhand smoke are all likely contributing factors to the higher rates of CHD and stroke.
In a conversation with NewPublicHealth, Luckhaupt said that employers can help improve the health profiles of employees by using the Total Worker Health program, launched by CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health three years ago as a guideline for workplace wellness programs. CDC now publishes quarterly reports on effective Total Worker Health programs established by employers across the United States. Recent examples include:
- Live Well/Work Well at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in N.H., which aims to improve worker safety and health at the medical center.
- Hearing loss prevention at the Domtar Paper Company in Kingsport, Tenn., and the 3M manufacturing plant in Hutchinson, Minn., which address both noise reduction exposure on the job and in the community.
- A “Culture of Health” at Lincoln Industries, a manufacturing factory in Lincoln, Neb., which includes companywide stretching for 15 minutes every day to help prepare the muscles that will be used on the job; massage therapists who assess and treat people who may be at risk for injury; an on-site clinic for health maintenance, wellness coaching and acute care; counseling and support programs; and social and fitness events.