In an effort to shift from a compliance-focused to a risk-free approach in the workplace, Total Worker Health® (TWH) is a philosophy that outlines and encourages worker-related safety and protection from health hazards by integrating prevention efforts against injury and illness. In the U.S. alone, $198B was spent on nonfatal workplace injuries in 2007 (adjusted for 2010 inflation). Although the TWH’s goal is to minimize workplace risks, implementation indirectly has positive outcomes on company business operations. This article will outline the TWH philosophy, present how a TWH program at your organization can boost productivity and improve financial performance, and lastly, explain the essential role of bioergonomic technology as a standard component of any TWH approach.
The Need For Workplace Standard
As a response to the growing economic burden of occupational injuries and illnesses, fatal and nonfatal, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has been developing and advocating for standardized change that fosters worker well-being in the workplace. It wasn’t until 2011 that NIOSH’s ideas evolved into what is currently known as the Total Worker Health® program. TWH focuses on promoting worker well-being as an “integrative concept that characterizes quality of life with respect to an individual’s health and work-related environmental, organizational, and psychosocial factors.” Workload and stress levels, hours of sleep, interactions with coworkers, and access to paid or unpaid sick leave are just a few aspects of the workplace that can have an impact on the well-being of the individual, their family, and their community.
From a study published in 2014, depression is strongly correlated to high prevalence in industries where workers regularly interact with the public and clients which also include highly stressful responsibilities with low physical activity. Intuitively, industries with high physical activity might lead to more musculoskeletal injuries. Implementation of the TWH approach focuses on reforming the workplace environment and organizational policies in order to prioritize worker health and well-being, ultimately causing positive change in a business’s production and financial performance.
Connecting Company Success to Worker Health
It’s abundantly clear that the success and efficiency of an organization are dependent upon the health and well-being of its workforce. In fact, a focus group study reports that anxiety and depression are correlated to reduced job performance and safety, specifically citing accidents attributed to the side effects of medications. Those same employees were hesitant to disclose their condition for fear of the stigma around mental illness. Moreover, workplace stressors, such as low job control, effort-reward imbalance, low job security, etc. – can cause “chronic biological arousal” and promote unhealthy habits causing a variety of physical illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.
Benefits Earned From a TWH Approach
A TWH approach recognizes that both occupational and non-occupational factors contribute to producing worker injury or illness. And by implementing the TWH philosophy businesses and organizations can reduce the cost of those injuries and illnesses through the elimination of unsafe working environments, regular full body assessments, and educating employees on proper biomechanical movements.
Beyond the financial aspect and injury or illness, companies see social benefits that ultimately influence productivity. From a study conducted in 2016, employers said that regardless of the financial burden of executing an organizational TWH approach, companies acquired competitive advantages through improved recruitment, retention, and employee satisfaction; positive community engagement and reputation; and creation of sustainable workforce culture. The TWH program integrates environmental, social, and biological factors into supporting worker health and well-being, offering holistic growth for any organization that implements it.
Addition of Bioergonomics
As modern technology improves, ergonomic assessments are attaining a biotechnological component (coined as bioergonomics) that offers higher accuracy and precision in promoting workplace efficiency and preventing worker injury or illness. Full body assessments are a fundamental role in any implementation of the TWH program. Regular ergonomic assessments typically involve an ergonomist that objectively studies the biomechanics and repetition of common movements in the workplace. Technology produced by HFit® called BioErgo utilizes surface electromyography (EMG) that records electrical impulses produced during movement.
BioErgos allows for real-time analysis of real-world circumstances compared to laboratory simulated environments. On the flip side, several years of education and training are required to become an ergonomist while data collection for BioErgo needs a trained supervisor required to complete a basic training course. Data from bioergonomic assessments are then analyzed by an algorithm and an industrial hygienist that work to develop and encourage appropriate action to prevent workplace injuries. BioErgo is advanced technology bringing accuracy and precision to the field of ergonomics, improving the ways organizations implement their TWH approach.
Total Worker Health® is a philosophy that achieves a variety of approaches in any organization that focuses on promoting worker health and well-being while seeing holistic benefits from boosted productivity and improved financial performance. By utilizing bioergonomic assessments, employers catch and prevent workplace injuries, ultimately reducing costs spent on compensation, paid or unpaid sick leave, and accounting for loss of work. Moreover, a strong organizational foundation that supports its workforce creates positive morale that leads to boosted productivity. The success of a company is directly tied to the health and well-being of its workers. Therefore, a TWH approach will have significant and insurmountable benefits on any organization that implements this philosophy.