Well-Being: What Does It Have to Do With Safety?

Panelists explains how well-being and safety collide in a Plenary Session at Safety 2021 in Austin, Texas.

Understanding the the complete health and wellness of employees can help to support a more safe workplace—especially in the midst of the on-going pandemic that has now stretched on beyond a year in a half.

According to a panel of safety experts at the American Society of Safety Professional’s Professional Development Conference & Exposition, safety professionals should look to Total Worker Health strategies to reduce stress and improve safety, health and well-being at work.

“The pandemic has made this so clear,” said Dede Montgomery, MS, CIH, Senior Research Associate in Outreach and Education at Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences. “We need to look at worker safety and health in a more holistic manner to ensure the safety of a workplace.”

In addition to Montgomery the panel included Jack Dennerlein, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor of Ergonomics and Safety Department of Environmental Health at Harvard University, Leslie Hammer, Ph.D., Co-Director of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center at Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences and Sharon Kemerer, COHN-S, Certified Occupational Hearing Conservationist and Certified in NIOSH Spirometry. The panel was moderated by immediate past ASSP President and President of SafeTech Consultants Deborah Roy.

The panelist first discussed the pandemic and the resulting emotional tole on workers. In the last year and a half, it has become increasingly clear that in order for employees to work safely, you have to consider all angles of workers’ health. This includes emotional and mental issues as well.

One way to approach this is to use Total Worker Health strategies. TWH, which is outlined on this NIOSH page, can help safety professionals engage with workers in a respectful way that increases safety and health in and out of the workplace.

“You can’t just put together a Total Worker Health approach and slap it down,” Kemerer said. ”You need to get input from your workers and from your partners. Find something that resonates for you and your workers, get your partners together and tackle it. This helps to show your workers that you do really care.”

Kemerer stresses that this doesn’t have to start with something big. Safety professionals can first tackle the “low hanging fruit” to start a program that results in success. This can be something that shows workers that you care about them and are invested in their health while also creating a successful TWH foundation that you can build on.

An example that was brought up by panelists was offering healthier options for workers to have for lunch. When workers eat better, their performance and their overall health is improved. It was stressed, however, that you should not just provide healthy options instead of normal options, but instead, you can make sure that healthier options are highlighted so that the decision is not forced.

"It’s not about forced behavior change,” Kemerer said. “It is about enabling our workers to make better decisions. If you make better choices available to them, some of them will choose it."

Hammer mentioned that in order to maintain a Total Worker Health program, you must first focus on training the supervisors, as they are closest to the workers. In doing so, your company can communicate a more effective message, but also learn more about what is going on with employees in the field or in a facility.

"You should focus on supervisors,” Hammer said. "They are the key to the well-being of workers. Develop training programs that help supervisors to understand what the supported behaviors are that they should engage in in order to better the total health of workers."

Speaking of workers, ensure that they have a say in any safety or health program that you implement.

"Engage the workers through the entire process,” Dennerlein said. "It helps because the workers feel like they are actually being heard. The best safety professionals I know, they know their workers and they go in talk with them all the time."

If you are not attending ASSP Safety 2021 this year, you can virtually engage with the show and even catch the recorded version of the Plenary session planel conversation. To find out ways to do so, visit assp.org. You can also follow OH&S’ online coverage of the event at ohsonline.com/live.

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