October 16, 2017—The work environment can take a toll on health—from unsafe conditions that lead to injuries to stressful demands that contribute to cardiovascular disease. A new manual produced by the Center for Work, Health, and Well-being at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health aims to help companies put in place policies and practices that protect and even enhance their employees’ health, safety, and well-being on the job.
The manual, released on the Center’s website in October, is full of tools and real-world examples. Its foundation is what the researchers call an integrated approach to workplace well-being. Rather than focus on one area at a time—such as improving safety when moving patients at a medical facility—the researchers suggest taking a more comprehensive look at systems across the organization.
For example, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, a nonprofit academic health center based in New Hampshire, launched an effort that included tracking and preventing injuries, training supervisors to be more supportive of their staff, and providing healthier food options in the cafeteria. As a result of these and other improvements, Dartmouth-Hitchcock reduced on-the-job injuries and, in 2016, saw its employee health claim costs decrease 3% compared to the 4.07% increase that year in the overall national health care inflation rate.
Co-author and Center Director Glorian Sorensen, professor of social and behavioral sciences said, “Research increasingly shows that compared to traditional programs, an integrated approach can lead to healthier and safer employees, as well as improved operating and financial outcomes for employers. The difference lies in a sharp focus on using policies and practices to influence working conditions, which are often the root causes of safety, health, and well-being issues.”
Dartmouth-Hitchcock is one of many employers Sorensen and her colleagues have worked with that recognize the importance of implementing worker safety, health, and well-being programs. With the new manual, they hope to expand their reach.
The publication is intended to help decision makers within an organization build support and collaboration, plan and implement a program, and evaluate their efforts. It covers a range of workplace conditions, including physical risks like chemical exposures and fall hazards, stressful scheduling and job demands, and peer and supervisor relationships. Other authors include the Center’s Senior Scientists Deborah McLellan and Eve Nagler, and writer William Moore.
Established in 2007, the Center is one of six Centers of Excellence funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as part of the Total Worker Health® initiative.
Improving health and safety on the job (Harvard Chan School News)
New manual helps companies enhance workplace health and well-being (Harvard Chan School News)