August 29, 2019 / Kim Henry

Total Worker Health: How Does IH Fit?

Contrary to what you may have heard, Total Worker Health isn’t just a bunch of wellness programs and incentive strategies for workers to be or stay healthy. Launched by NIOSH in June 2011, TWH is a formal strategy for the workplace whose premise is that protection and promotion of worker health will lead to a healthier, more productive, and more satisfied workforce overall. So, what does industrial hygiene have to do with TWH?

Industrial hygienists practice the art and science of anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of hazards to worker health. The ultimate objective of IH is to promote a healthier work environment for employees, while the ultimate objective of TWH is to promote whole worker health, which is directly affected by many things, including the work environment.

IHs complement this holistic approach. Our profession began to lay the foundation for a healthier work environment and workforce many decades ago. We are an essential part of Total Worker Health, and IH concepts can be applied to a person’s life outside of work. After all, exposures to some hazards do not stop at the door when leaving work. Noise, air pollution, heat, ultraviolet light, and myriad other potential hazards can exist in our everyday lives.

A person lives and breathes and works in a combination of environments. Environmental quality in the workplace is the realm of IH practice, environmental quality in the public sphere is the realm of public health and environmental health, and environmental quality at home and on a personal level is the realm of self, family, and physician.

As a woman in IH, I know there can be benefits to having different perspectives in our profession. Our diverse backgrounds and experiences offer different viewpoints of a shared goal. From my perspective, IHs can grow in our practice, expand our views, and help educate ourselves and those we protect to promote the health of workers. The silos of occupational health, public health, and environmental health are only illusions; they don’t exist at the individual level. Of course, a clear delineation of responsibilities, liabilities, resources, and funding among these spheres is necessary for human health protection and promotion. I am not suggesting we should eliminate areas of practice in our society. However, we ought to consider the overall health of workers and their families when we practice our craft. The Total Worker Health strategy takes a step in this direction.

While TWH refers to workers, it encompasses all facets of health. TWH is a promising development for all who work in the health field and strive to reach the next level in human health protection and promotion.

Kim Henry

Kimberly (Kim) P. Henry is a Colorado State University alum and a CIH for SAIF Corporation, a NIOSH Total Worker Health Affiliate and Oregon’s not-for-profit, state-chartered worker’s compensation insurance provider. She spends most of her time playing with her dogs and enjoying the outdoors with her partner when not traveling around Oregon to help protect workers.

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