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  • Congress Urged to Preserve FY 2017 Funding for NIOSH Total Worker Health Program

    August 22, 2016

    The Honorable Thad Cochran
    Chairman
    Senate Appropriations Committee
    United States Senate
    Washington, DC 20510

     

    The Honorable Barbara Mikulski
    Ranking Member
    Senate Appropriations Committee
    United States Senate
    Washington, DC 20510

    The Honorable Harold Rogers
    Chairman
    House Appropriations Committee
    U.S. House of Representataives
    Washington, DC 20515

     

    The Honorable Nita M. Lowey
    Ranking Member
    House Appropriations Committee
    U.S. House of Representatives
    Washington, DC 20515

    Re: FY 2017 NIOSH Funding -– Total Worker Health Program

    Dear Chairmen Cochran and Rogers and Ranking Members Mikulski and Lowey:

    On behalf of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, I write to respectfully urge you to restore $5 million for the Total Worker Health (TWH) Program (Healthier Workforce Center) during Conference on the Fiscal 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill.

    The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is the primary federal agency responsible for conducting innovative research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related illness and injury. NIOSH established the Total Worker Health® Program to build and disseminate evidence for effective and efficient integrated workplace health and safety programs to preserve the health and productivity of the American workforce. The Total Worker Health Centers for Excellence to Promote a Healthier Workforce, first funded in 2006, are a cornerstone of this effort and are charged with designing, testing, and disseminating evidence-based approaches to protect and promote worker health.

    Traditional occupational safety and health protection programs have primarily concentrated on ensuring that work is safe and that workers are protected from the harms that arise from work itself. Total Worker Health (TWH) builds on this approach through the recognition that work is a social determinant of health.

    TWH Centers are leading national research and dissemination efforts for integration of workplace health promotion and health protection programs, especially in the areas of smoking and tobacco use, physical activity, diet, ergonomics, work organization, institutional leadership, team-based and incentive-driven programs, and integration with primary care and the medical home.

    TWH and the Centers present a new paradigm for framing research to improve worker health and to guide employers’ investment in programs that improve workers’ well being, safety, and health. The National Institutes of Health and NIOSH took an important step toward creating a high-impact TWH research program by convening a workshop and panel in 2015. The workshop brought together researchers to address evidence gaps and form directions for new research. The panel identified 8 priority recommendations relevant to moving the field forward.

    Emerging research demonstrates that TWH interventions addressing both injuries and chronic diseases can improve workforce health effectively. Some, who challenge the value of these interventions, often overlook the interaction between personal and occupational health. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as one out of every two Americans may now be dealing with a chronic disease – a trend that is adding major costs to the health care system and limiting the choice of workers to remain at his or/her job. The only sustainable way to relieve the economic pressures of rising health care costs is to “drain” some of the manageable health risk and illness burden out of the population – and that means addressing chronic health conditions and their precursor risk factors more aggressively in collaboration with employers and employees. Emerging evidence is demonstrating the unique role that workplace interventions can play in addressing chronic health conditions.

    In a 2011 paper titled Workplace Health Protection and Promotion: A New Pathway for a Healthier—and Safer—Workforce, Hymel, Loeppke, Baase, et al, described the integration of health protection and health promotion as a continuum, in which “health promotion interventions contribute dynamically to improved personal safety in addition to enhancing personal health, while occupational safety interventions contribute dynamically to improved personal health in addition to enhancing personal safety. The two factors, personal health and personal safety—each essential to a productive worker and to a productive workplace—are effectively combined in a symbiotic way that increases their impact on overall health. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”

    Supporters of the health and safety continuum concept are increasing, and various integration projects, initiatives, and studies are either under way or in development at organizations such as the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the American Society of Safety Engineers, and the American Industrial Hygiene Association, as well as at leading employers, such as The Dow Chemical Company, American Express and Navistar, and at academic centers, such as Dartmouth-Hitchcock and the University of California at Los Angeles.

    It is critical that Congress preserves funding for NIOSH’s Total Worker Health Program in the Conference on the Fiscal 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill Ongoing funding for the Total Worker Health® Program will sustain and expand this important research in workplace health and well-being programs which are key to improving the health of American workers and the productivity of American businesses.

    ACOEM is an organization of more than 4,000 occupational physicians and other health care professionals that provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.

    Thank you for your consideration of these comments. Please contact Patrick O’Connor, ACOEM’s Director of Government Affairs, if you have additional questions or need additional information. He can be reached at 703-351-6222 or by email at patoconnor@kentoconnor.com.

    Sincerely,

    James A. Tacci, MD, JD, MPH, FACOEM, FACPM
    President