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NIOSH renews call for total worker health

December 26, 2011
KEYWORDS health / NIOSH / occupational / risk
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dividedHealth experts writing on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Science Blog strengthened the case for combining both work and personal factors when designing programs to maintain a well-functioning workforce -- an approach NIOSH recommends in its Total Worker Health program.

In a blog post entitled, "A Comprehensive Approach to Workforce Health," Paul Schulte, Ph.D. and Sudha P. Pandalai, M.D., Ph.D., point out that employers are burdened by rising healthcare costs that hinder their companies' productivity and profitibability and can limit growth.

Historically, work and personal factors relating to health have been considered separately. Legislation eventually arose that protected workers primarily from workplace hazards.

"However, most of the diseases and health conditions experienced by workers are influenced by multiple factors," write the authors, who call for more research into the interaction of occupational risk factors and personal risk factors as they relate to the causes of diseases. Such research is particularly crucial because the workforce is aging and increasingly burdened with chronic illnesses, some of which can be prevented or ameliorated.

One example cited in a paper published by Schulte and Pandalai recently in the American Journal of Public Health: age-related hearing loss that might be exacerbated by exposure to organic solvents.

They cite a growing body of evidence on the effectiveness of workplace interventions for occupational outcomes (e.g. musculoskeletal disorders, mental health) and personal factors (e.g. smoking and overweight). "Future models for interventions that consider both work and personal risk factors would provide a foundation for an integrated worklife approach that combines health protection from workplace hazards and health promotion. This approach is advocated by NIOSH through its Total Worker Health program. Ultimately, consideration of the totality of the health of the workforce is a prescription for better health and well-being of the nation."

Click here to read the complete blog post.

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