Mining industry stands to benefit from NIOSH’s initiative

by David R. Lauriski
EMCIS staff

In 2006, the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) established an initiative to address “worker health and well-being in a more comprehensive way.” This more-inclusive approach looked at the work environment, both the areas where workers perform their tasks as well as the organizational factors that may affect them. In addition, factors of individual behavior were considered. Within six years, the initiative gained traction among health and safety (H&S) practitioners and researchers because of the attention given to the general health and overall well-being of employees. The initiative became known as the Total Worker Health (TWH) program. Since its inception, TWH has expanded its influence with a growing profile of research, publications, partnerships and more. Essentially, TWH works to advance the notion that “integrating occupational safety and health protection program activities with other workplace policies, programs and practices is more effective for worker well-being than either of these activities on their own.”

NIOSH currently funds six TWH “centers of excellence” to serve the need for comprehensive and innovative approaches to advancing worker well-being. Spread across the country, the six centers examine a wide variety of subjects, including work environments in the construction industry, the health of nursing-home and patient-care workers, the health of workers from Native American communities, opioid abuse, food-service worker health and many more.

The TWH program seeks to improve the ability of workplaces to promote their workers’ well-being, recognizing that certain factors related to worker well-being may not be considered in H&S policies or procedures. Such individual factors pertain to health status, lifestyle choices and behaviors. But safety professionals in mining who look to TWH for guidance may come up empty, as TWH research efforts to date have given little attention to the unique environments and tasks common in the extraction industries. There is a need to educate mine safety professionals about how TWH interventions can help address the numerous organizational and behavioral factors that can influence workers’ health and their safety performance.

Health and safety practitioners in the mining industry have complex jobs. The numbers of tools, bodies of knowledge, policies, regulations and safety philosophies are staggering, and many of them may contrast with each other. This adds to the complexity of their work. While safety professionals may have a variety of safety interventions to consider, the comprehensive approach of NIOSH’s TWH program makes sense to standardize H&S efforts, as well as apply best practices based on research and evidence. Given the prevalence of illnesses and injuries in mining, the industry stands to benefit from the thorough and detailed research methods that define TWH.

Although TWH research efforts have yet to fully reach the mining industry, they soon will. Institutions including the Colorado School of Mines have identified a need for TWH in mining and the extractive industries and are spearheading efforts to advance its ability to help mines and other industry employers keep their workers safe above and beyond what may have been possible before. Learn more about the NIOSH Total Worker Health Program at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/twh/