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The Steps to a Healthier US Workforce Initiative was developed by NIOSH, modeled after the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) initiative Steps to a Healthier US. The initial goals of Steps to a Healthier US Workforce were to protect, support, and enhance the health of workers through comprehensive programs for safe and healthy work, integrated with health-supportive environments and access to adequate health care.

key events in the history of total worker health - timeline 2003-2012

In October of 2004 NIOSH sponsored a Steps to a Healthier US Workforce Symposium to bring together current knowledge and experience of health protection and health promotion, sharing existing knowledge and stimulating commitments of action to further the Initiative. The symposium was developed around the themes of research, practice and policy related to the integration of health promotion and health protection. A white paper in each of these areas was developed to examine the state of the science, stimulate discussion, and improve communication between researchers and practitioners in the fields of worksite health promotion and occupational safety and health.

In 2005 the name of the initiative was changed from Steps to the NIOSH WorkLife Initiative. The WorkLife Initiative served as the NIOSH response to the 2004 Steps to a Healthier US Workforce Symposium. Symposium participants called on NIOSH to continue to show leadership in promoting research, policy, and practice in the areas of science, economics, and current practices coordinating health protection and health promotion to improve the health of workers.

Since its inception, the WorkLife Initiative has sought to improve overall worker health through better work-based programs, policies, practices, and benefits. The WorkLife Initiative supported addressing worker health and well-being in a more comprehensive way, taking into account the physical and organizational work environment while at the same time addressing the personal health-related decisions and behaviors of individuals. The worksite provides an opportunity to implement programs and policies to prevent both work-related risks and chronic illnesses and injuries that are linked to employee choices.

The aims of the WorkLife Initiative were to:

  • Encourage and support rigorous evaluation of integrative approaches to work and health.
  • Promote adoption of policies and practices proven to protect and improve worker health.
  • Motivate trans-disciplinary collaboration among investigators focused on preserving and improving the health of people who work.
  • Overcome the traditional separation of the occupational health and health promotion professional communities.

This worker-centered initiative relied on productive partnerships for research, training and communication of workplace-relevant health protective and enhancing recommendations. The initiative has created opportunities for both the occupational safety and health community and the health promotion community to work collaboratively to develop and implement workplace programs that prevent workplace illness and injury, promote health, and optimize the health of the U.S. workforce.

In September of 2007, NIOSH and over thirty-five co-sponsors and supporters conducted a national symposium called "WorkLife 2007: Protecting and Promoting Worker Health." More than 450 participants explored the science and economics of integrated work-based programs, policies, and practices that sustain and improve worker health and well-being. National and international leaders from the business, labor, and academic communities provided ample evidence that, in some settings, comprehensive or integrative approaches to work and health are beneficial. Numerous case studies and anecdotal reports provided support for the concepts that workplace conditions can promote worker health, and healthy workers are good for business.

Extramural Centers of Excellence to Promote a Healthier Workforce were established by NIOSH to create new research in this area, effectively demonstrating the impact of improved and integrated approaches to health protection and health promotion on the improvement of worker health and safety and defining critical elements of health-supportive workplaces. Centers were funded at the University of Iowa, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, the University of Connecticut, and Harvard University.

Based on information received from experts and practitioners with experience in industry, academia, labor, government, and the non-profit sector, NIOSH, through its WorkLife Initiative, has developed a list of "Essential Elements of Effective Workplace Programs and Policies for Improving Worker Health and Wellbeing." The Essential Elements continues to serve as a resource to guide employers and workers interested in improving workforce health and well-being through improved workplace programs and policies.

NIOSH has also collaborated with the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) on a multi-year pilot project in twelve VA primary health care facilities to implement comprehensive occupational safety and health protection and workplace health promotion activities aimed at producing a healthier, more productive workforce. NIOSH has helped the VA align the goals, execution, and performance of the pilot project, "Wellness is Now (WIN) at VA", with the WorkLife Initiative model that seeks to integrate workplace safety and health protection with worksite health promotion.

In 2008 NIOSH convened a workshop with representatives of the Centers of Excellence to develop a comprehensive, long-range strategy for advancing the WorkLife Initiative. Their recommendations fall into three areas (e.g., practice, research, and policy) and were published in the Journal of Industrial Medicine

NIOSH has also served as a member of a cross-government workgroup launching the Federal Employee Worksite Health and Wellness Initiative though partners at OPM, OMB, GSA and DOI. This project aims to create, implement and evaluate a comprehensive set of worker protection and health promotion programs on Federal workplace campuses around the country.

In 2010, NIOSH, along with the US Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Occupational Health, the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Health Resources Services Administration, and the Eagleson Institute began planning for "Healthier Federal Workers 2011, A New Symposium on the Health, Safety and Wellbeing of the Federal Workforce". This symposium will take place during September 2011 in Washington DC. Federal workplace health and wellness, occupational health, human resources, safety, and related professionals will attend sessions on the science of evidence-based prevention, specific strategies for engaging leadership and overcoming barriers in the implementation of workplace programs, engaging employees, and creating safe and healthy workplaces that optimize the health and well-being of workers and their families.

Most recently, NIOSH has been planning for an evolution of the program to more comprehensively address the wide range of factors that influence workers’ total health. Please see WorkLife Transitions to Total Worker Health™ and What is Total Worker Health™ for more information.

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  • Page last reviewed: February 10, 2013
  • Page last updated: February 10, 2013

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