February 27, 2020 / Kirk Phillips

An Introduction to Total Worker Health

Have you ever heard members of your safety and health team talk about Total Worker Health (TWH)? Have you encountered the term in conference settings or in published material? A survey by the American Society of Safety Professionals found recently that most respondents have heard of TWH, but many do not know much about it. NIOSH, the organization behind the concept’s creation, defines it as policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with injury and illness prevention efforts in order to advance worker well-being. For the IH it’s clear we should care about the success of TWH, but we may not know how we fit in or how we can fully participate to deliver this vision.

AIHA has identified the need for its membership to be full participants in TWH, and, in early 2018, entered into an agreement with NIOSH to advance TWH goals. NIOSH chartered the TWH Task Force to lay the foundation, which will allow AIHA and its members to deliver on their promise to promote TWH and make sure the elements of exposure are delivered in concert with the TWH vision.

TWH includes a host of programs relevant to worker health, impossible to implement without IHs delivering on all our usual duties to control hazards and exposures in the workplace, along with additional ones, such a psychosocial factors. TWH is our umbrella under which we bring together all elements associated with worker health. Other exposure-based issues included under TWH include air quality; hazard-free break and eating areas; medical surveillance and disease management; healthy communities; housing free from lead, asbestos, radon, and other hazards; environmental quality; access to healthcare, including exposure monitoring; multi-employer worksites; and alternative work sites. More IHs are becoming akin to “exposure scientists,” using our professional skills in all the above areas to consider and deliver a Total Exposure Health (TEH) profile, the information necessary for the working population envisioned under TWH.

I am the chairman of the TWH Task Force, and along with all our members and our steering group, I am pleased to report that three initiatives are under way that will support the AIHA membership in implementing TWH. The first initiative is to place liaisons from AIHA at each of the six NIOSH TWH Centers of Excellence (CoE), who will not only keep abreast of the latest developments, but will also speak on the process and ensure the exposure components of worker health are fully integrated into all the CoEs do. Second, we have begun efforts to go through current published TWH media (such as books, papers, articles, and courses) and metatag them to make indexes of resources searchable for terms and topics of interest. This will allow IHs to quickly find references relevant to their needs.

Finally, AIHce EXP this year will have a full three-day track on TWH. Not only will this track be accessible to a large live audience, but it will also be part of the virtual conference and be recorded for access afterwards. In this way, AIHA hopes to provide the widest available education on TWH for the IH. Presenters will start by demystifying and describing the “totals” of TWH, TEH, and Total Worker Exposure, and go on to deliver presentations across the spectrum of TWH from an exposure-based perspective. Another great part of the TWH track will be this year’s AIHA Fellows SIG Debate, which will discuss whether Total Worker and Exposure Health should become part of IHs’ everyday practice.

If you want more information on TWH, you should plan to attend the AIHce EXP TWH track in Atlanta this June.

Related: Read how Portland, Oregon, implemented Total Worker Health in the October 2019 issue of The Synergist.

Kirk Phillips

Kirk Phillips is chairman of the Total Worker Exposure Task Force, sponsored by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).

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