The Colorado School of Public Health’s Center for Health, Work & Environment has received $4.7 million from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to become one of six national Centers of Excellence to research the concept of Total Worker Health in Colorado, Utah, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.
“The health of a worker impacts the worker’s ability to do a job, and a worker’s job impacts his health and well-being,” said Lee Newman, MD, Director of the new Rocky Mountain Center for Total Worker Health and professor of public health at the Colorado School of Public Health. “If successful, thousands of workers will be healthier and safer.”
The Center, covering federal health region VIII, is based at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz. The Center builds on the successful Health Links initiative, which is now reaching hundreds of Colorado businesses in its mission to bring best practices for worksite wellness and safety from conception to practical use.
“This center is using a business approach – not an academic one,” Newman said. “It’s taking a more holistic approach to worker health and worker safety and, in turn productivity.”
Starting this September, the Center will focus on health projects that benefit workers and small- to medium-size businesses, beginning work in Colorado with expansion to other states.
“Most workers in the US work in small businesses, many of which want help in creating and improving workplace wellness programs,” Newman said.
Total Worker Health is the concept that the workplace is itself a medium within which overall health interventions should take place, expanding the current norm in which businesses focus efforts on safety. Keeping safe on the job remains a priority, but Total Worker Health also recognizes that workplace wellness can be addressed. The Rocky Mountain Center for Total Worker Health will focus on particular regional concerns including stress, work-related injuries and fatalities, aging workers and the needs of workers with chronic illnesses – all of which affect the health, performance and productivity of workers in Colorado and the region.
“Employers are interested and willing to engage in total worker health because they want to hire and retain the best employees,” Newman said, noting strong competition among businesses for young professionals in Colorado as an example.
The Center will work with business and worker groups to implement total worker health programs. Businesses will be able to launch health programs and gain practical information and tools to do it in an effective, sustainable way. The new Center will, in turn, learn from small businesses on how to build on their successes. Small business executives will also receive leadership training to help establish cultures of health and safety in their organizations.
The Center is funded through a cooperative agreement with NIOSH and will collaborate closely with that organization, with other faculty in the Center for Health, Work and Environment and Colorado School of Public Health, and also with researchers at Colorado State University. The Center’s initiation was supported by John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado, and major partner Pinnacol Assurance, insurance provider to 55,000 Colorado businesses.
“Pinnacol congratulates the Center for Health, Work and Environment on this important recognition,” said Phil Kalin, President and CEO of Pinnacol Assurance. “We have partnered on worksite wellness programs with Dr. Newman and the Center for many years because we share the understanding that health and wellness are inextricably linked to worker safety and productivity.”