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Leadership support is a must for small businesses that make Total Worker Health part of their strategy: NIOSH

Photo: Hispanolistic/iStockphoto

Washington — Small organizations that make Total Worker Health part of their business strategy – and have leaders who support it – are “poised to advance the well-being of their workers,” a recent NIOSH study concludes.

The agency defines TWH as policies, programs and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with the promotion of injury and illness-prevention efforts to advance employee well-being.

According to a NIOSH Science Blog post, more than half of U.S. workers are employed by small employers. Conducted from 2016 to 2021 by researchers from the Center for Health, Work and Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health, the Small+Safe+Well study involved 97 businesses with fewer than 500 workers. Its aim was to change leadership behaviors and implement TWH to improve the health and safety climate of small businesses.

The businesses enrolled in a mentorship program that provided assessments, advisement and certification. Some of them were randomly assigned to participate in an additional TWH leadership development program that included 10 hours of leadership assessment, in-person training and support.


Highlights of the research show that:

  • Workers feel more positive about employers who offer more TWH policies and programs.
  • Leadership support is vital for a culture of safety, health and well-being.
  • Small-business employers should combine TWH strategies, leadership support, and safety and health culture for maximum impact.
  • Small-business leaders reported a 10% improvement, on average, in TWH leadership practices after participating in the leadership development program.
  • Employers with robust safety and health climates were better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers recommend “helping small businesses assess their current TWH business strategy and culture and by mentoring them as they work toward improving upon this strategy and culture.”

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