Are workplace health interventions working?

OHWC at Tram


June 1, 2015

May’s featured paper is "Effectiveness of Total Worker Health Interventions,” published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. The paper is published by a team led by Dr. W. Kent Anger.

Recognizing the impact of the work environment on health and the impact of chronic health conditions on workplace safety and productivity, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) redefined occupational safety and health in the United States as Total Worker HealthTM (TWH).

TWH is the integration of occupational safety and health protection with workplace policies, programs and practices that promote health and prevent disease to advance worker safety, health and wellbeing.

Because working people spend the one-third of their day in the workplace and since companies are already targeting a reduction of hazards in a readily-controlled setting, policies and environments that improve both safety and health and well-being (e.g., smoke-free campus, healthy food choices, safety gear and training) offer an easy opportunity for employers to develop a safe, healthy and productive workforce.

Workforce interventions

Yet the question remains: How effective are these TWH interventions in reducing risk factors for injury and chronic diseases and improving safety and health?

A team led by W. Kent Anger, senior scientist and associate director of applied research at Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences, director of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center and professor of behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine, decided to find out.

Their resulting study was published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. “I chose this paper because it represents an effort from a joint OHSU/PSU team looking at comprehensive workplace interventions and their potential impact on public health,” said Mary Heinricher, Ph.D., assistant dean for basic research in the OHSU School of Medicine. “This is particularly interesting given all of the effort OHSU itself has put into workplace intervention, with Healthy Team/Healthy U and similar programs.”

Systematic analysis

The team conducted a systematic review of the peer-reviewed TWH intervention research literature.

“Only 17 studies met our criteria of workplace TWH intervention studies: Employed interventions targeted to improve BOTH safety (e.g., reduce chemical exposures, musculoskeletal pain) and health (e.g., stop smoking, reduce weight), AND measured outcomes of BOTH safety and health,” said Dr. Anger. “These studies were conducted in manufacturing, services, construction, telecommunications, and transportation industries.  Ten were conducted in the U.S.”

The team found that all but one of the 17 intervention studies improved risk factors or safety/health outcomes, and four interventions improved more than 10 risk factors or safety/health outcomes.  

“These results suggest that TWH interventions that focus on reducing both injuries and chronic diseases can improve workforce health and well-being effectively and more rapidly than the alternative of separately employing narrowly focused programs to change the same outcomes in serial fashion,” Dr. Anger explained.

“Although limited, there was evidence of a positive return on investment of $2-4 per $1 invested (in two studies), and comparisons with single-outcome health promotion interventions (e.g., weight loss only) suggests that the TWH interventions improved the various outcome measures to the same degree as the focused interventions.”

Hopeful outcome

Because there was no replication of the TWH intervention programs, these programs are not models but examples of effective interventions, Dr. Anger explained. And two of them were developed by OHSU faculty.

“We think these programs, methods and procedures can be employed in workplaces to improve workforce safety, health and well-being in any industry. This also offers a route to improve population health and safety through changes in the workplace. Workers will bring new knowledge and behavior patterns home.”


•    Read the paper
•    Read about the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center


Effectiveness of Total Worker HealthTM interventions
J Occup Health Psychol. 2015 Apr;20(2):226-47. Epub 2014 Dec 22.
Anger WK, Elliot DL, Bodner T, Olson R, Rohlman DS, Truxillo DM, Kuehl KS, Hammer LB, Montgomery D.

More Published Papers

•    Previous School of Medicine Papers of the Month
•    Recent OHSU published papers

Pictured above: Members of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center

About the School of Medicine Paper of the Month

The OHSU School of Medicine spotlights a recently published faculty research paper each month. The goals are to describe to the public the exceptional research happening at OHSU as well as inform our faculty of the innovative work underway across the school’s departments, institutes and disciplines. The monthly paper is selected by Associate Dean for Basic Research Mary Heinricher, Ph.D.