Niki Ellis | Building on the foundation of safety


Building on the foundation of safety

12 Nov 2014, Posted by Professor Niki Ellis in RACP
Glorian Sorensen is an international guru on the integration of occupational health and safety and workplace health promotion.  The light bulb went off for her decades ago when she was working on quit programs in a foundry. The look on the men’s faces as they peered out through the fumes and heat as she banged on about the harm tobacco does said it all to her. 
In October I went to the First International Conference on Total Worker Health, held by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the USA.  It was one of those exciting conferences, not too big, where a discipline comes of age.  The idea is that managing only work-related risks for health is too limiting, we operate as a whole, work affects our health (positively and negatively) and our health affects our work.  There is potential to move beyond compliance with the legal obligation of employers to provide safe and healthy working environments, still essential to get that right first, to additional investment by employers in creating a culture of health (or care), knowing this will lead to greater employee engagement and productivity. 
I gave a talk to the Australian Physiotherapy Association, Victorian Branch on this last night.  Around 13 or 14 occupational physiotherapists showed up and together we puzzled through conceptual models I brought back from the American conference.  Most seemed to see the value in the approach, but we need some more practical examples of what it means on the ground.  The group picked up on the fact that investment beyond minimum requirements will require a clear strategy well aligned to business goals, with accountability to KPIs related to productivity.  We also discussed the integration part – co-ordination of work across OHS and workplace health promotion and HR.  At a workshop I went to at the conference run by the Harvard group working on this, of which Glorian Sorensen is the head.  They said that they bring the leaders of OHS, WHP and HR in together and facilitate a discussion using an assessment tool they have developed.  Inevitably this leads to discovery of what each is doing that might be useful to the other, and duplication.  For a link to the talk I gave last night, click Here

Here is a link to the presentations from the Total Worker Health conference, I recommend the talks by Glorian Sorensen and Jack Dellenian – they were the ones we discussed last night: plenary session day 1 at
For more general information go to the TWH, NIOSH –