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New Publication Outlines Training Standards for Total Worker Health® Professionals

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In a newly published paper in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Education and Training to Build Capacity in Total Worker Health®: Proposed Competencies for an Emerging Field, experts in the field of Total Worker Health have proposed the first set of core competencies for training professionals entering the discipline.  

According to the authors of the paper, the goal is to open a broad community dialogue about the training and education needed for a new brand of occupational safety and health professional. Several major universities have begun implementing

TWH certificate programs, graduate degree tracks, and professional development opportunities, heightening the need for standardized competencies for students.  TWH is a transdisciplinary field with relevance to elicit change in the nature of work and the workforce. It is an approach defined by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as “policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being.” 

“An integrated, inclusive approach to preventing on-the-job illnesses and injuries, while simultaneously promoting worker overall health and well-being, is of increasing importance,” said Dr. Lee Newman, the paper’s lead author and Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health. “To meet emerging needs, TWH professionals must have knowledge, skills, and experiences covering an array of subjects that consider the safety and health of the worker, including working conditions, work environment, and the nature of work itself,” Newman added. 

The paper’s authors, from eight academic, governmental, and private organizations, distilled the results of more than six years of symposia, conferences, and workshops to propose six broad domains of TWH competency: Subject Matter Expertise; Advocacy and Engagement; Program Planning, Implementation and Evaluation; Communications and Dissemination; Leadership and Management; and Partnership Building and Coordination. 

According to the authors, the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates how many of the factors that influence worker safety, health, and well-being transcend traditional occupational safety and health responsibilities. 

“As never before, there is a need for professionals trained in a transdisciplinary approach to promote the safety, health, well-being, and productivity of workers,” says Newman. “We will require a broader skill set to meet the needs of employers and employees as we face global pandemics, climate change, changes in demographics, emerging technologies, changing work arrangements and profound alterations to our work and home environments,” he added. The authors write, “Like the TWH approach itself, we consider the ideas shared in this paper to be a work in progress and a launching point for further discussion and action by the broader community.” Their goal is to build the capacity of a workforce that can conduct research and adapt it to practice, as well as plan, implement and evaluate THW programming. 

Several universities, including the Colorado School of Public Health at University of Colorado, Western Kentucky University, University of Texas and the Gillings School of Public Health at University of North Carolina, have launched TWH undergraduate and graduate certificate and advanced degree programs that are attracting both traditional OSH professionals and those new to the field. “This is the perfect time for us to start standardizing our education and training competencies,” said Newman. 

“Preparing future TWH professionals to deliver solutions for workers and employers is now more important than ever,” said Casey Chosewood, co-author and Director of the Office for Total Worker Health at NIOSH. “The integrated, transdisciplinary approach to safeguarding workers is an absolute necessity in today’s shifting environments, including workplaces where we are seeing a rapidly-expanding set of new challenges, emerging public health threats, dramatic changes in work arrangements and in the organization of work, and new technology demands. TWH solutions will help these professionals in their own organizations rise to the challenge.”