Health / Best Practices

The U.S. unveils a wellness & prevention plan

How EHS pros fit into the national strategy

August 2, 2011
 The National Prevention Council released the National Prevention Strategy in June 2011 as mandated by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The council consists of the heads of 17 federal departments, agencies and offices, chaired by the U.S. Surgeon General. According to Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, “The National Prevention Strategy will move America from a system of sick care to one based on wellness and prevention.”

 Goal, direction, priorities & partners

The goal is to increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. Priorities are: tobacco-free living; preventing drug abuse and excessive alcohol use; healthy eating; active living; injury- and violence-free living; reproductive and sexual health; and mental and emotional well-being.

 How to review the strategy?

Here are helpful hints to get the most out of your participation in the National Prevention Strategy:

 1. Keep an open mind 

For example, the strategy considers the workplace a “community environment.” Don’t argue this fact but go with the flow. Where does an EHS pro fit into the strategy? Are you now part of the “prevention workforce?”

 2. Look at the whole, not just the parts

Consider the strategy in its whole. How do all the “partners in prevention” pull the rope in the same direction to achieve results?

 3. Details to follow

For example, within the “Strategic Direction” for “Healthy and Safety Community Environments” businesses and employers can support the strategy by: “Adhere to best practices to promote safety and health, including participatory approaches to hazard identification and remediation as well as supervisory and worker training.” Hmm… could this broad concept become an OSHA injury and illness prevention program with requirements down the road? This is how you need to think.

 4. Be alert to strategic shifts

  In June 2011, NIOSH introduced Total Worker Health™ (see http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/twh/). According to NIOSH, Total Worker Health™ “Is a comprehensive organizational strategy that integrates traditional occupational safety and health protection efforts with health promotion and other workplace activities to prevent illness and injury, regardless of cause, so that all workers have opportunities to achieve optimal levels of health and well-being.” Will NIOSH’s strategic shift impact your worksite? Stay tuned for updates.

 5. Check for gaps

Significant gaps might exist between the National Prevention Strategy and traditional workplace health and safety programs. You should look for these gaps and plan for closure. For example, according to the National Prevention Strategy, “Prevention begins with planning and having a healthy pregnancy.” Reproductive health is one of the seven priorities in the National Prevention Strategy and strategy recommendations to “… reduce birth defects, low birth weight, and other preventable problems” includes “… reduce exposure to workplace and environmental hazards.” Remember, broad concept now, details later. Are there other gaps? This is what you need to find out.

 6. Consider due diligence

Should you close gaps now or wait for a regulation? There is no easy answer. The more credible the recommendation, the more urgent due diligence becomes. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) informed NIOSH in June 2011 of its updated guidance on Reproductive and Developmental Hazard Management (http://www.acoem.org/Reproductive_Developmental_Hazard_Management.aspx). ACOEM’s new guidance includes this caveat: “While the OSH Act does not include a specific pregnancy standard, the General Duty Clause could reasonably be applied to known exposure/workplace hazards to pregnancy.” At least for this gap due diligence is warranted.

 7. Consider economic benefits

The strategy provides examples of how prevention increases productivity and saves employers money. If you’re going to promote the value of the National Prevention Strategy, leading off with economic benefits may help keep the attention of your boss.

 8. Manage your risks

Why spend the time to review the National Prevention Strategy? Principles of modern risk management (ISO 31000) call for organizations to consider the external context (trends) in which they seek to meet objectives. Review the strategy as “context.” Include how the strategy may impact your personal objectives.

 9. Follow the evolution

The National Prevention Strategy is an evolution in workplace health and safety. First, the individual was responsible for his or her own health and safety. The concept of dependence came next — supervisory control and compliance with regulations. Interdependence followed in the form of teamwork Now even things seemingly not work-related are integrated to further reduce workplace injury and illness.  Read the strategy as if you were ready to evolve.

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Recent Articles by Dan Markiewicz, MS, CIH, CSP, CHMM

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