Digging deeper: Understanding how employers protect worker safety, health, and well-being

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Little is known about how employers implement guidelines that protect and promote the safety, health, and well-being of their workers, according to USF College of Public Health doctoral student Heidi Hudson.

Hudson, who is pursuing a doctor of public health degree in advanced practice leadership in public health, is lead author on the study, “An Exploratory, Qualitative Study of How Organizations Implement the Hierarchy of Controls Applied to Total Worker Health®,” published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The article is part of a special issue on Worker Safety, Health, and Well-being in the USA.

Hudson, who is a health scientist in the Division of Science Integration within the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been with NIOSH since 2004. She also became a Commissioned Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service in 2008.

The study provides insight into how the principles of the Hierarchy of Controls Applied to NIOSH Total Worker Health(TWH HoC) guidelines have been implemented among employers featured as ‘Promising Practices for TWH.’

The TWH HoC emphasizes organizational-level interventions to protect workers’ safety, health, and well-being, according to the CDC. Some examples include restricting tobacco use, providing healthier lunch options, reducing work-related stress, and offering healthy movement policies to reduce sitting for long periods.

Hudson, who focused on work-related issues of fatigue, stress, sedentary work, and tobacco control, identified how and what impacted the implementation of TWH HoC guidelines among organizations to address those work issues.

Illustrated above is an example of how an organization in the study encouraged physical activity during the workday to reduce work-related sedentary time. The organization built an indoor walking track around office spaces. (Photo courtesy of Heidi Hudson)

“The TWH HoC is a conceptual model designed to aid employers and other professionals interested in implementing workplace safety and health programs aligned with TWH approaches,” Hudson said. “After reviewing articles that featured organizations applying TWH principles, we selected organizations to discuss how they implemented TWH approaches. Overall, we conducted seven in-depth organizational interviews with thirteen key informants.”

Hierarchy of Controls Applied to NIOSH Total Work Health. (Source: NIOSH)

“The finding that stood out the most to me was that employment organizations appear to be prevention-focused and seek to address working conditions that threaten the safety, health and well-being of their workforce,” Hudson said.

Hudson found that an organization’s culture and readiness for implementation had a significant impact on the implementation of approaches that protect worker safety, health, and well-being. Findings also indicated that the characteristics of the interventions, such as their advantages and adaptability, were important considerations for successful implementation within organizations.

Hudson said this study “addresses an important gap in the field of TWH by providing a preliminary and practical understanding into how early adopter organizations of various sizes and sectors have applied principles consistent with the TWH approach.”

“I hope my research will inspire professionals in public health to better understand how work can positively and negatively influence health and well-being. Not just through using the workplace as a point to access people to educate, but to recognize that workers experience opportunities or improved health or reductions in health while they are working,” Hudson said.

CDR Heidi Hudson, MPH. (Photo courtesy of Heidi Hudson)

“I believe holistic and integrated approaches that create safer and healthier work provide a tremendous opportunity to protect and promote the safety, health, and well-being of workers and their families, now and in the future,” she said. “Altogether, this can have an impact on the well-being and productivity of the nation. This type of impact, however, depends on understanding the inherent value of information, provided at the right time and to the right audience, while assuring credibility and compelling delivery.”

She plans to continue relevant research as part of her doctoral studies with insight from USF’s Dr. Claudia Parvanta, her academic advisor.

“I am seeking to further investigate the strength of organizational factors that impact the implementation of integrated interventions that address the safety, health and well-being of workers and their families,” she said.

Total Worker Health® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Participation by USF does not imply endorsement by HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health