Workplace Health Glossary

Glossary Terms

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Absenteeism – the time an employee spends away from work. Absences can scheduled (e.g. vacation time) or unscheduled (e.g., due to illness or injury).1

Administrative controls – are policies and practices that reduce Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders risk but they do not eliminate workplace hazards.

Alcohol misuse – describes alcohol consumption that puts individuals at increased risk for adverse health and social consequences. It is defined as excess daily consumption (more than 4 drinks per day for men or more than 3 drinks per day for women), or excess total consumption (more than 14 drinks per week for men or more than 7 drinks per week for women), or both.2

Arthritis – a term used to describe more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues which surround the joint and other connective tissue.

Assessmentsee also Workplace Health Assessment

Automated External Defibrillators [AED] – a portable device usable by that automatically delivers an electric shock (i.e., defibrillation) to the heart in a cardiac emergency to restore a normal heart rhythm.



Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) – is the world’s largest, on-going telephone health survey system, tracking health conditions and risk behaviors in the United States

Biometric Screening – the measurement of physical characteristics such as height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood glucose, and aerobic fitness tests that can be taken at the worksite and used as part of a workplace health assessment to benchmark and evaluate changes in employee health status over time.

Body Mass Index – is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height. BMI provides a reliable indicator of excess body weight for most people and is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website on Assessing Healthy Weight describe body mass index (BMI) and how to calculate it.

Breast Cancer – cancer (a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control) that originates in the breast.



Cancer Screening – Screening means checking your body for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. The routine performance of screening tests may find many kinds of cancer early, when treatment is likely to work best.

Cervical Cancer – cancer (a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control) that originates in the cervix (i.e., the lower, narrow end of the uterus).

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems.

Clinical Preventive Services – Screening, vaccination, counseling, or other preventive services delivered to one patient at a time by a healthcare practitioner in an office, clinic, or healthcare system.3

Colorectal Cancer –cancer (a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control) that occurs in the colon (i.e., the large intestine or large bowel) or rectum (i.e., the passageway that connects the colon to the anus).

Community Linkages – are partnerships with organizations in the surrounding community such as YMCAs or local hospitals to offer health-related programs and services to employees when the employer does not have the capacity or expertise to do so or provide support for healthy lifestyles to employees when not at the workplace.

Comprehensive workplace health programsee Workplace Health Programs

Cultural Competence – the design, implementation, and evaluation process that accounts for special issues (e.g. traditional diets, language) of select population groups (e.g. ethnic and racial) as well as differing educational levels and physical abilities.4
Culture of Health – is the creation of a working environment where employee health and safety is valued, supported and promoted through workplace health programs, policies, benefits, and environmental supports. Building a Culture of Health involves all levels of the organization and establishes the workplace health program as a routine part of business operations aligned with overall business goals. The results of this culture change include engaged and empowered employees, an impact on health care costs, and improved worker productivity.

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Demographics – a statistic characterizing human population groups data such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, or vital statistics.5

Depression – is a complex condition characterized by changes in thinking, mood, or behavior that can affect anyone.

Diabetes Mellitus – is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose (i.e., high blood sugar) due to the body’s inability to properly use blood glucose for energy.6

Disability – a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual.7



Ergonomics – is the science of designing the job and the workplace to suit the capabilities of the workers. Simply stated, ergonomics means “fitting the task to the worker.” The aim of ergonomics is the evaluation and design of facilities, workstations, jobs, training methods, and equipment to match the capabilities of users and workers, and thereby reduce stress and eliminate injuries and disorders associated with the overuse of muscles, bad posture, and repeated tasks.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – a benefit program or set of services offering assistance to employees, their family members and employers for workplace and personal problems.

Employee Health Survey – a means to gain input from an employee on health related issues. Survey items may include questions relating to health behavior (physical activity, dietary habits), use of preventive health services, and measures of health status (blood pressure and cholesterol levels). Additional items could include employees and management health promotion needs and interests as well as opportunities and barriers to participating in workplace health programs.

Engineering Controls – the preferred approach to prevent and control WMSDs by designing job tasks to take account of the capabilities and limitations of the workforce.

Enterprise – a company, organization, or business.

Environmental Assessment – a process to observe the workplace to understand more about the setting employees work in and the physical factors, such as the built environment, at and nearby the worksite that support or hinder employee health. The built environment includes all the physical parts of the worksite (building, workstations, open spaces, streets, and infrastructure) which can influence employee health. It considers such components as land use patterns, transportation systems, and design features.

Environmental Auditsee also Environmental Assessment

Environmental Support – refers to the physical factors at and nearby the workplace that help protect and enhance employee health.

Evidence-based Public Health – is the development, implementation, and evaluation of effective programs and policies in public health through application of principles of scientific reasoning, including systematic uses of data and information systems, and appropriate use of behavioral science theory and program planning models.8



Flextime Policies – allow employees to shift their work schedules, such as coming in earlier or later or taking a lunch break at alternate times. Flextime can be useful in creating opportunities for employees to engage in health promotion activities such as physical activity during the day and yet maintain their expected number of work hours.

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Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 – is a law that prohibits discrimination in health coverage and employment based on genetic information. It generally prohibits health insurers or health plan administrators from requesting or requiring an individual or individual’s family member’s genetic information, or using the information for decisions regarding coverage such as determining premium rates, or eligibility.



Health Behavior – an action taken by an individual or group of individuals to change or maintain their health status or prevent illness or injury.

Health Benefits – refer to health insurance coverage conditions and other services or discounts regarding health provided as part of an employee benefits package.

Health Education – learning opportunities designed to encourage or promote the adoption of healthy behaviors.5

Health Literacy – the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.9

Health Plan Employer Data and Information Set (HEDIS) – is a tool used by the majority of America’s health plans to compare performance on a variety of health care quality and service measures. HEDIS was developed and is maintained by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA).10

Health-related Policies – are formal or informal written statements that are designed to promote employee health. Supportive workplace health policies affect large groups of workers simultaneously and make adopting healthy behaviors much easier. They can also create and foster a company culture of health.

Health-related Programs and Services – are opportunities available to employees at the workplace or through outside organizations to start, change, or maintain health behaviors. Programs and services can be 1) Informational approaches – directed at changing knowledge or attitudes about the benefits of and opportunities for healthy lifestyles or 2) Behavior or social approaches – designed to teach employees the behavioral management skills necessary for successful adaptation and maintenance of behavior change.

Health Risk Appraisal (HRA) – is an assessment tool used to evaluate an individual’s health. An HRA could include a health survey or questionnaire (see Employee Health Survey); physical examination, or laboratory tests resulting in a profile of individual health risks often with accompanying advice or strategies to reduce the risks.

Health and Safety Risk – a behavior or condition that influences the chance or probability of susceptibility to a specific health issue.5

Health Status – the state of health such as the prevalence of diseases or health conditions of an individual, group, or population.5

Hypercholesterolemia – or High Cholesterol is an elevation of cholesterol in the bloodstream.

Hypertension – also known as High Blood Pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is a condition where the force of the blood in the arteries is too high.

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Incentives – a tangible commodity or service given to an employee for completion of a predetermined action or based upon achievement of goal or desired outcome.11

Influenza – or (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses.

Intervention – a generic term used in public health to describe a program or policy designed to have an impact on a health problem.5


Job (Work-related/Occupational) Stress – the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker that can lead to illness or injury.12



Material Safety Data Sheets – forms used to describe the short and long-term health effects, physical and chemical properties, flammability, safety hazards, and emergency response procedures of a particular substance or industrial product.



Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) – a method to deliver nicotine to the bloodstream that replaces nicotine from tobacco use. Several products are available including nicotine gum,  inhalers, nasal sprays, lozenges, or patches.



Obesity – a label for a range of weights that are greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height.  See also Body Mass Index

Osteoarthritis – a disease characterized by degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint as well as bony overgrowth.

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Pap Test – also known as a Pap Smear or Papanicolaou test is a screening test for cervical cancer that looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer (precancers) if they are not treated appropriately.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – specialized gear or clothing worn by workers to protect them from job hazards.

Physical Activity – is an action that gets the body moving.

Pilot Test – is a small-scale test of the procedures, methods, and strategies of a health promotion program designed to ensure that it will work in practice before being applied on a larger scale. Pilot tests provide an opportunity to make modifications or adjustments to aspects of the program that did not work as well as expected before investing the time, staff, and money needed to support a broader effort.

Pneumonia – is an infection of the lungs that is usually caused by bacteria or viruses.

Presenteeism – the measurable extent to which health symptoms, conditions, and diseases adversely affect the work productivity of individuals who choose to remain at work.13

Productivity (Health-Related) – a measure of worker output impacted by the worker’s health status.

Program Evaluation – is the systematic investigation of the merit (e.g. quality), worth (e.g. effectiveness) and significance (e.g. importance) of an organized health promotion action/activity (e.g. workplace health program, policy, or environmental support) intended to improve employee health.

Program Planning – a process to develop the components of a workplace health program including goal determination, implementation and evaluation strategies.

Public Health Evidence-basedsee also Evidence-based Public Health.



Quitlines – are telephone-based tobacco cessation services usually accessed through a toll-free telephone number to provide callers with a number of services such as educational materials, referral to local programs, and individualized telephone counseling including a personalized plan for quitting.



Return on Investment (ROI) – An analysis used to compare the investment costs to the magnitude and timing of expected gains. For workplace health programs this usually refers to the medical savings or productivity gains associated with the employer’s investment in employee health programs.



Self-Management – the activities and skills (e.g., goal setting, decision making, self-monitoring) and individual learns and uses to improve their quality of life with one or more chronic conditions.  Education and support from healthcare or other providers can enhance an individual’s self-confidence and self-management skills.14

Site visit – an official visit to a workplace over a set period of time (typically between 1 to 3 days). Site visits can serve a number of purposes including meeting with the organization’s leadership to outline goals and expectations for a workplace health program; conducting specific tasks such as an employee health survey, an environmental assessment of the worksite for health risks, or collecting other health-related data; gaining input and feedback from employees, managers, and leaders; or reporting findings and recommendations from a workplace health assessment or evaluation.

Site Visit Interview – opportunity to meet face to face with managers and employees at the workplace to gain personal insights about the corporate culture, key decision makers, perceived sources of health and safety threat, if any, from the work environment, and what may be of interest and feasible at the worksite in terms of workplace health.

Social Marketing – is the application of marketing technologies and theory (product, placement, promotion, price) to the analysis, planning, execution, and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behavior of target audiences in order to improve their personal welfare and that of society.15

Social Support – physical or emotional comfort given to an individual by family, friends, coworkers, or others.  Groups of individuals can form social support networks to provide motivation or reassurance when making behavior changes such as increasing physical activity.



Tobacco Cessation – stopping or quitting using tobacco (e.g., cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco). Tobacco users often require multiple quit attempts and use cessation methods such as counseling or medications to aid them in stopping tobacco use.


Workers Compensation – a type of insurance paid by employers to provide benefits and medical care to employers in the event they become ill or are injured on the job.

Workplace Governance – refers to the infrastructure at the workplace to lead and support employee health programs. The infrastructure includes the management and strategic direction of the program that runs through all levels of the organization including leadership support, dedicated resources, a workplace health improvement plan, communications, and workplace health informatics and data.

Workplace Health Assessment – a process of gathering information about the factors that support and/or hinder the health of employees at a particular workplace and identifying potential opportunities to improve or address them.

Workplace Health (Wellness) Coordinator – an individual who is responsible for the administration and management of the workplace health promotion program.

Wellness Council or Committee – a group of employees and managers who broadly represent (across departments, business units, or job categories) a worksite’s workforce. The committee works with workplace health promotion program staff to advise, consult or make program decisions, promote and champion the program, and represent the needs and interests of employees.

Workplace Health Informatics – the design, use, maintenance and evaluation of communications, surveillance, and information systems for the collection, analysis, and interpretation of health-related data that can be used for the planning, implementation and evaluation of workplace health programs.

Workplace Health Programs – refer to a coordinated and comprehensive set of strategies which include programs, policies, benefits, environmental supports, and links to the surrounding community designed to meet the health and safety needs of all employees.

Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSD) – are musculoskeletal disorders (injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs) in which the work environment and performance of work contribute significantly to the condition; and/or the condition is made worse or persists longer due to work conditions.

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1.  Burton W, Conti D. The real measure of productivity. Business & Health. 1999; 34-36.

2.  National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Helping patients who drink too much: a clinician’s guide, updated 2005 edition. Rockville: National Institutes of Health; 2005 [cited 2008 Dec 5]. Available from: [PDF – 2.2 MB]

3.  The Guide to Community Preventive Services. [Internet]. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; [updated 2010 Feb 18; cited 2010 Feb 22]. The Guide to Community Preventive Services Glossary; [about 5 screens]. Available from:

4.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010: Understanding and Improving Health. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, November 2000.

5.  Turnock BJ. Public health: what it is and how it works. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers; 1997.

6.  National Institutes of Health. [Internet]. Bethesda: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2009 [cited 2010 Feb 12]. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse; [about 3 screens].

7.  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [Internet]. Washington, DC: [updated 2009 Nov 21; cited 2010 Feb 22]. Section 902 Definition of the Term Disability Notice Concerning The Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act Of 2008; [about 12 screens].

8.  Brownson RC. Gurney JG, Land G. Evidenced-based decision making is public health. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice 1999;5:86-97.

9.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine (NLM). In: Selden, C.R.; Zorn, M.; Ratzan, S.; et al.; eds. Health Literacy, January 1990 Through 1999. NLM Pub. No. CBM 2000-1. Bethesda, MD: NLM, February 2000, vi.

10.  National Committee on Quality Assurance [Internet]. Washington, DC: [cited 2010 Feb 22].HEDIS & Quality Measurement; [about 2 screens]. Available from:

11.  VanWormer JJ, Pronk NP. Rewarding change: principles for implementing worksite incentive programs. In: Pronk NP, editor. ACSM’s worksite health handbook, 2nd edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2009. p. 239-247.

12.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STRESS…At Work. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; 1999. NIOSH Publication No. 99-101. Available from:

13.  Chapman LS. Presenteeism and its role in worksite health promotion. Am J Health Promot. 2005;19(4): suppl 1-8.

14.  Adams K, Greiner AC, Corrigan JM. (Eds) Report of a summit. The 1st annual crossing the quality chasm summit—A focus on communities. 2004. Washington DC National Academies Press.

15.  Andreasen, Alan. 1995. Marketing social change: Changing behavior to promote health, social development, and the environment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.