Don’t Separate Workplace Wellness Initiatives from Safety and Health Programs

July 29, 2011
Some things are meant to work together. Just as you wouldn’t wear only one protective glove and leave the other sitting on the toolbox, incorporating workplace wellness initiatives into safety and health programs may result in a healthier, more productive workplace, new research reveals.

“Workplace Health Protection and Promotion: A New Pathway for A Healthier – and Safer – Workforce,” a paper written by a task force from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) and published in JOEM, suggests that employers can gain a more powerful punch from their wellness programs if they are integrated into other safety and health initiatives.

Researchers said that many employers make the mistake of viewing their safety/health protection programs and workplace wellness programs as two distinct activities, which they then separate into different “silos.” Isolating these programs, however, may not be the most effective approach.

The paper argues that the “workplace health protection and promotion” concept can address this limitation by systematically integrating these two previously independent functions, thereby enhancing the overall health and well-being of the workforce while decreasing the likelihood of workplace injuries and illnesses. After all, the authors state, “both health protection and health promotion interventions are best achieved when they are working in concert.”

Protection and Promotion

“This is the path to creating a healthier work force,” said Pamela Hymel, M.D., the paper’s lead author and a past president of ACOEM. “While we have made great strides in creating separate cultures of safety and wellness in the United States in recent decades, the two have yet to meet and merge into a truly sustainable culture of health.”

The paper defines “health protection” as encompassing the activities that protect workers from occupational injury and illness – ranging from basic safety training to the use of protective gear, work organization, and safety enhancing modifications to equipment. “Health promotion,” by contrast, is viewed as encompassing the activities that maintain or improve the personal health of a work force – ranging from health-risk assessments to wellness initiatives and immunizations.

“The two factors, personal health and personal safety – each essential to a productive worker and to a productive workplace – are effectively combined in a symbiotic manner way that increases their impact on overall health and productivity. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts,” the authors explained.

While the authors acknowledge that additional research is required, they encourage employers to consider systematically integrating their health promotion safety and environmental programs, policies and processes. Activities incorporated in workplace health protection and promotion reflect a wide range of functions and goals. Examples include assessing worker health status; addressing personal health risks; the early recognition and treatment of injury or illness; job safety initiatives and efforts to create cultures of health and safety; disability prevention and return-to-work programs; emergency preparedness planning; and behavioral health and environmental safety initiatives.

“While these may appear to be diverse approaches, they are all aimed at the same thing: promoting overall health and preventing workplace injuries and illnesses,” said Hymel.

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