Dr. John Howard, MD, director of NIOSH, declared in speech last month it's time for workplace safety and health programs to focus on both preventing work-related illness, injury and disability, and in a larger sense promoting healthy living and lifestyles to reduce and prevent chronic disease.

Speaking at NIOSH's "Steps to a Healthier U.S. Workforce" symposium, Dr. Howard said, "For too long there has been a disconnect within our prevention communities — between those interested in control of risks from work and those focused on risk reduction outside the workplace.

"In the 21st century, we can ill-afford to continue the separation of occupational safety and health protection from health promotion.

Dr. Howard conceded that his plan "is made all the more difficult" by different systems of payment for the medical costs of injury and disease. "Conditions caused or significantly exacerbated by workplace exposures are covered through workers’ compensation insurance schemes that are separate, at least conceptually separate, from any health insurance benefits paying for care for the diseases and injuries 'of everyday life',” he explained.

Plus, professionals who administer health promotion programs in organizations "often are separated from professionals who administer health protection programs, making effective communication and coordination difficult," he said.

Here's the NIOSH director's hope: "A new emphasis on the 'people asset' of any enterprise suggests that productivity should be related to a more holistic view of health than our current occupational versus non-occupational paradigm."

Using smoking cessation programs as an example, Dr. Howard said, "It seems that the success of workplace health promotion is linked to the simultaneous presence of a robust health protection program."