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NIOSH WorkLife Vol. 1 No. 3

WorkLife banner. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Message from the WorkLife Coordinator

L. Casey Chosewood, MD
Senior Medical Officer for WorkLife

A key goal of the NIOSH WorkLife program is to champion efforts that promote safety and health for workers, whether they are on or off the job. An effort that addresses on- and off-the-job risks at the same time is even better! Here’s one example.

Transportation and motor vehicle safety efforts can help lower health risks to working Americans.

Incidents that involve motor vehicles are consistently the leading cause of work-related fatalities in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, each year more than one in three of the 5,700 on-the-job fatalities reported in the United States involve motor vehicles. Each year from 2002 through 2008, an average of more than 1,350 workers died in public highway crashes. The risks are also far-reaching. More than 3.9 million U.S. workers are classified as motor vehicle operators, but tens of millions more drive to work each day—many on long, stressful, and dangerous commutes. The World Health Organization calls road traffic injuries a global epidemic and predicts that by 2030 traffic deaths will become the fifth-leading cause of death in the world, outranking diabetes and HIV/AIDS.

What can you do for your workers to lower risks related to motor vehicles? Efforts to improve driving skills and increase motor vehicle safety awareness are a great start. AARP and other groups provide high-quality motor vehicle safety training courses in workplaces around the country, often leading to insurance discounts for participants—a built-in incentive. But don’t stop there. Explore policy interventions for increasing telework and flexible scheduling. Maintain fleets with an eye toward optimal safety. Give incentives for carpools, vanpools, and public transportation. Promote active transportation options, such as walking and biking to work, and support these options by providing covered bike racks, free bike tune-ups, and changing rooms with showers. Look for places where people walk and where drivers operate motor vehicles, and find ways to reduce risks. Do your parking lots and decks need better lighting, striping, or resurfacing? You can also make best use of screenings and medical clearances for workers who must regularly drive as part of their work and offer programs that help them identify and reduce their health risks. Efforts to reduce distracted driving and commuter stress may also help.

A multi-faceted approach that understands workers in their fullest context will better address their health and safety risks. For more information on motor vehicle safety and healthy transportation, go to:,,

WorkLife Center Launches Web site

harvard school of public health

The Harvard School of Public Health; Center for Work, Health, and Well-being; WorkLife Center for Excellence recently launched a new Web site: The Center for Work, Health, and Well-being is one of three WorkLife Centers for Excellence that NIOSH funds to support and expand multi-disciplinary research, training, and education in this area. See “Resources” below for a list and information on all of the WorkLife Centers for Excellence.

Best Practices at Work for Health

employees with treadmills at their desks

It’s a Real WIN-win! VA Pilot Wellness Program Goes Nationwide

This is the first in a series on programs that show best work practices for health.

Diane Verkamp, a material management specialist at the Omaha, Neb., Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC), had planned to join a weight loss program, but she kept putting it off. When a program became available for employees at her VAMC, she grabbed the opportunity and so far has lost 30 pounds. Sandy Harm, working in the outpatient clinics in Omaha, joined the same “at work” program and has shed 26 pounds. Meanwhile, at the neighboring Lincoln, Neb., facility, Janice Anderson, a nursing service employee, lost 14.67% of her body weight, winning a weight loss challenge sponsored by the program.

Diane, Sandy, and Janice are taking advantage of WIN, short for Wellness Is Now, which is an employee wellness program offered by the Veterans Health Administration. The program is conveniently located at the medical facilities where the employees work, and it uses health promotion and disease prevention interventions to improve the health and well-being of VA employees. Participants enjoy not only convenience but also the support and camaraderie of their fellow employees. Sandy says that because she knows there is a weigh-in every Thursday with friends and coworkers, she is more accountable and more successful. “We are all friends and have become each other’s cheerleaders,” Sandy says. Participants attend classes on-site during lunch or after work to learn about such things as portion control and smart food choices. A farmer’s market, also organized on-site, gives easy access to fresh fruit and vegetables, which also supports healthy food choices.

Opportunities to add physical activity to the day are also offered to employees. New fitness centers with state-of-the-art equipment and certified instructors are at both the Lincoln and Omaha VAMCs. Yoga and Tai Chi classes are also provided to reduce stress, boost energy, and enhance work-life balance. Another advantage is ready access to knowledgeable support and guidance from an on-site personal wellness coach. Quin Kelly, RN, is one such coach. She coordinates and organizes weight loss programs, provides opportunities for increased physical activity, and supports tobacco cessation and stress management classes. These core components are delivered both face-to-face and through a secure Web site.

For Diane, Sandy, and Janice, this experience has made their work more enjoyable. They meet people outside of their workgroup. They add fun, exercise, and relaxation to their day, conveniently and at no cost (or at reduced cost). This makes them happier and healthier workers. Sandy says that the WIN program lets participants go as far as they want with a healthier lifestyle. “The tools are there, you just need to implement them,” she said.

The program enjoys strong leadership support. VA’s Human Resources and Administration has defined Employee Wellness as one of the major Human Capital Investment Plan elements for 2010, and it is rolling out similar programs to all VA employees nationwide. A formal kickoff for the expanded WIN program will be held in September in Washington. Assistant Secretary of Human Resources and Administration John Sepulveda notes that employees are the most vital resource the VA possesses and has pledged his support for VA WIN.

The WIN program began in 2008 as a pilot project, and it built on experiences from corporate wellness programs in the private sector. These programs provide employees with an array of services to help them develop and maintain healthy lifestyles. On average, these programs have resulted in a 4 to 1 return on investment, with benefits accruing from decreased sick leave, decreased employee turnover, and increased productivity. Employees appreciate the convenience, cost savings, and improvements in their health and well-being. The WIN Employee Wellness pilot also includes a rigorous evaluation component, and it was recently accepted as one of three federal pilot projects sanctioned by the Office of Personnel Management and supported by the White House and VA/VHA leadership. For more information, go to VA’s WIN program Web site:

All names mentioned in this story were used with permission.

Hospital System Creates Healthy Workplace Culture

Poudre Valley Health System Focuses on Wellness

a woman at a farmers kiosk

Poudre Valley Health System (PVHS) is a locally owned and operated nonprofit health-care organization in Northern Colorado that provides care to residents of northern Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Headquartered 60 miles north of Denver in Fort Collins, Colo., and with a service area of 50,000 square miles, PVHS is a regional medical hub including Poudre Valley Hospital, Medical Center of the Rockies, and many associated clinics and outpatient services. The goal of PVHS is to provide world-class health care that is innovative, comprehensive, and exceeds customer expectations.

With more than 5,000 employees at its sites, PVHS works to improve the health of its employees through providing evidence-based worksite wellness programming via the PVHS LiveWell Employee Wellness Program. In 2008, PVHS received the Silver Well Workplace award from the Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA), which recognizes employers who provide comprehensive wellness programs with proven outcomes. LiveWell has three goals: (1) improve the health and wellness of employees, (2) lower health benefit cost, and (3) create an organizational culture that supports healthy lifestyles.

Featured key program elements include a health-risk appraisal, weight management programs, nutrition and physical activity counseling for employees, smoking cessation resources integrated into the employee benefit plan, stress management programs, on-site massage and yoga/Pilates classes, health fair/biometric screening, physical activity challenges, LiveWell Lunch Club (healthy featured meal of the day and recipes in hospital cafeterias), holiday weight maintenance programs, bike-to-work incentives, on-site healthy cooking demonstrations, Garden Fresh Series, Farm Fresh/produce-delivery program, and a variety of other educational opportunities.

PVHS is committed to creating an organizational culture that supports healthy behaviors. The worksite environment can greatly impact employee health; thus, worksite policies that promote healthy environments play a critical role in improving overall employee health by ensuring that “healthy choices are easy choices.”

In 2010, PVHS began a smoke-free policy and integrated smoking cessation resources into the employee benefit plan. Current PVHS policy priorities are focused on creating a healthy food environment at the worksite, which will allow employees to have easy access to affordable healthy food and beverage options at work. Along these lines, PVHS recently began the PVHS Farm Fresh program, a flexible weekly produce-box delivery service that partners with local farmers to provide affordable organically grown fruits and vegetables, conveniently delivered to the worksite. Evaluation of the Farm Fresh program will be completed in late 2010, and it will focus on program contributions to creating a healthy culture, process evaluation, and individual improvements in fruit/vegetable intake of program participants. The Farm Fresh program is one part of the broader all-inclusive food system at PVHS. A comprehensive healthy food policy will require extensive interdepartmental collaboration and support, and it will address all aspects of the worksite food environment, including cafeteria and vending options, company-sponsored meetings, and catered events.

For more information about the PVHS LiveWell Employee Wellness Program, contact Sarah Morales, wellness dietitian, at or Nate Sassano, wellness coordinator, at

Work, Family & Health Network: Changing the Workplace to Change Lives

Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research

Today’s work environment is fraught with competing demands of work and home-and it’s taking a toll. According to a study by the Families and Work Institute [Aumann and Galinsky 2008], in 1977 about one in three people reported experiencing “some” or “a lot” of work-life conflict; by 2008, that number jumped to 44%. The study found work-life conflict was indeed related to health and well-being, and fewer than a third of employees called their overall health “excellent” in 2008.

These trends led the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to look for scientific evidence about how changes in the work environment can improve the health of workers and their families. Enter the Work, Family & Health Network,, launched in 2005. The Network is studying how to improve the health and safety of workers by decreasing work-family conflict. The Network brings together researchers from Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research, the University of Minnesota, Penn State University, Harvard University, Portland State University, Michigan State University, and RTI International.

Network researchers started with four pilot studies, and the results were measurable: They found that changes to the work environment could reduce work-family conflict, boost employee health, and improve the health of families, all while benefitting businesses. The workplace changes focused on increasing support from supervisors and giving workers more control over how, where, and when they do their work.

In pilot research sponsored by NIOSH, Drs. Leslie Hammer and Ellen Kossek studied a workplace effort to increase supportive supervisory behaviors in the retail grocery industry [Hammer et al.]. Those findings indicated that workers supervised by family-supportive managers were significantly more likely to report lower levels of work-family conflict, higher job satisfaction, lower intention to change jobs, and better physical condition. Findings from the other Network pilots indicated employers could also increase employees’ sense of control over the time and timing of their work, and change the culture to focus on work results that matter most for business [Kelly and Moen 2007; Moen et al. 2009; Berkman et al. 2010].

The Network is now studying a newly designed workplace program that includes elements from the pilot studies. The program increases employee flexibility and control over how and when their work is done and boosts supervisor and coworker support for employees’ work-family issues. Perhaps one of the most exciting and challenging aspects of the Network’s research is that it is studying the real-world implementation of programs within two companies (one in information technology and the other in the extended care industry).

The Network is taking a transdisciplinary approach. Researchers use both self-report and objective biomarkers to measure diverse outcomes, including employees’ cardiometabolic disease risk, mental health outcomes, sleep quantity and quality, parenting practices and stressors, couple relationships, and children’s health and well-being. They also study changes in business outcomes, such as employee turnover and workplace safety.

This important research is gaining attention. This past winter, National Public Radio featured a three-part story on workplace flexibility, which featured Network members, new trends, and research in this expanding field. Network researchers hope that the results of this work will fuel a growing demand for information on the effectiveness and impact of corporate work-family initiatives.


Aumann K, Galinsky E [2008]. The state of health in the American workforce: Does having an effective workplace matter? New York, NY: Families and Work Institute. Available at: http://www.familiesandwork.orgExternal Web Site Icon.

Berkman LF, Buxton OM, Ertel K, Okechukwu C [2010]. Manager’s practices related to work-family balance predict employee cardiovascular risk and sleep duration in extended care settings. J Occup Health Psychol 15(3):316-329.

Hammer LB, Kossek EE, Anger WK, Bodner T, Zimmerman K [in press]. Clarifying work-family intervention processes: The roles of work-family conflict and family supportive supervisor behaviors. J Appl Psychol.

Kelly EL, Moen P [2007]. Rethinking the clockwork of work: Why schedule control may pay off at work and home. Advances in Developing Human Resources (Special Issue on Work-Life Integration) 11(9):487-506.

Moen P, Kelly E, Chermack K [2009]. Learning from a natural experiment: Studying a corporate work-time policy initiative. In A.C. Crouter and A. Booth (Eds.). Work-life policies that make a real difference for individuals, families, and organizations. Available at: Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, pp. 97-131.

2009 SMART BRFSS Data and Prevalence Tables and 2009 BRFSS MAPS Now Available

The health of your workforce likely mirrors that of the community surrounding your workplace. How healthy is your state, county, or town? How common is heart disease, asthma, and arthritis among your region’s population? Find out the answer to these questions and more from the just-released 2009 data of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). and


WorkLife Centers for Excellence

More… for a full list of resources check out the Worklife web page at

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