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We Can Impact Worker Well-Being

Christine Sullivan, CSP, ARM, 2022-2023 ASSP President
May 01, 2023

Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the term “well-being” has been cited in many media reports as well as in our conversations at work, at home and within our communities. But long before that, as safety professionals, most of us have been involved in some way in initiatives related to improving worker health and wellness because of their potential impact on a person’s physical safety.

While the well-being concept certainly includes health and wellness initiatives, thinking about it more holistically encourages us to more clearly recognize that our employees are affected by many facets of their lives and that these impacts can show up in various ways throughout a workday.

To help us better understand this idea, RAND Corp. and NIOSH published an article in 2018, “Expanding the Paradigm of Occupational Safety and Health: A New Framework for Worker Well-Being," that highlights five domains that are critical in this context and on which we have differing levels of influence:

1. workplace physical environment and safety climate

2. workplace policies and culture

3. health status

4. work evaluation and experience 

5. home, community and society

The research was also the foundation for NIOSH’s WellBQ questionnaire. This tool is designed to help organizations assess employee well-being beyond “workplace” or “work-related.” The idea is that by understanding workers’ views on well-being, we can create better interventions to support improvements. It can also help us define benchmarks so that we can examine changes over time or assess the effectiveness of interventions.

If you have not yet used the questionnaire or considered how you might, I encourage you to visit the website and review the documentation that NIOSH provides. I believe any organization can benefit from the knowledge it will gain through this process.

ASSP has continued to focus on building awareness of Total Worker Health concepts across the safety community via resources such as peer-reviewed articles, conference sessions, podcast episodes and focused webinars. For example, this issue of Professional Safety features the article “Worker Well-Being: Transforming From a Traditional to a More Holistic OSH Program” (starting on p. 23). It shares UTHealth Houston Safety Council’s multi-year journey to form a large interprofessional group that addresses worker safety, health and well-being more holistically.

As the authors note, “The workplace can . . . be an ideal site for going beyond simply keeping workers safe to focusing on improving worker well-being by contributing to quality of life and personal satisfaction.” This supports the idea that we should strive not only to help workers return home in the same condition they arrived, but also to provide tools, resources and opportunities that help them return home in a better condition.

Efforts to improve worker well-being support organizational strategies to increase diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Our workforces are affected by factors such as aging, new employment arrangements, greater work demands and technological advances. As Gallup notes in “It’s Time to Synchronize Your DEI and Well-Being Strategies,” “The ‘whole person’ comes to work, and employees’ experiences outside the office inevitably affect not only their well-being but also their performance on the job.”

In that article, Gallup suggests three steps organizations can take to build stronger connections between worker well-being and DEI initiatives:

Step 1. Gather input. Ask all employees to share their experience.

Step 2. Reflect. Similar to the NIOSH framework, leaders should review program elements such as workplace culture, work-life balance and wellness programs.

Step 3. Plan. Look for opportunities to foster cross-functional collaboration and accountability for improvements.

By implementing these types of strategies, we can help our organizations address evolving business conditions and create a safe, healthy and sustainable workplace for the future.

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