Workplace Health Is Public Health

Posted on by Frank Hearl, PE

It’s National Public Health Week.  Those of us who work in workplace safety and health know that workplace health is an integral part of public health. While “Creating a Healthy Workplace” is one of the five themes of National Public Health Week, the role of workplace health in Public Health is not always clear to the general public. If you were asked to make the case for or provide examples of the importance of workplace safety and health in the broader context of public health, what would you say? We would like to hear how you explain to your colleagues, friends, and family that workplace safety and health IS public health.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Many of us spend a significant portion of our lives at work.  In 2011, 65 percent of the population worked full time and year roundi.
  • Many hazards or exposures that concern the general population are seen first and in much higher concentrations in the workplace. For example:
    • Hazards related to butter flavoring chemical mixtures, including diacetyl, that have  been associated with severe obstructive work-related lung disease popularly know as “popcorn lung” were first identified in the workplace.
    • Health implications related to nanomaterials are being researched in the workplace.  This research will help make these innovative materials safer for the workers who produce and use them and in turn safer for the general public.
    •  Overexposure to lead remains a leading cause of workplace illness.ii Workers can also expose their families unintentionally if they track lead home on their skin, clothing, or equipment.
  • Increasingly, health professionals, employers, and workers see the interactive value of combining workplace health protection with workplace-based health promotion—what we call Total Worker Health™.
  • Based on medical costs and productivity losses, in 2007, the cost of work-related fatalities and nonfatal injuries and illnesses was estimated at approximately $263 billion in 2010 dollars.iii This amount exceeds the individual cost of cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
  • Everyone deserves a healthy and safe workplace
    • In 2011, 4,609 U.S. workers died from work-related injuries.iv
    • Employers reported approximately 3 million injuries and illnesses to workers in private industry and 820,900 in state and local government in 2011.v In the same year, approximately 2.9 million workers were treated in emergency departments and 150,000 were hospitalized (CDC, unpublished data, 2013).
    • Fatal occupational illnesses are not tracked comprehensively by national surveillance systems so the total must be estimated.  In 2007 there were an estimated 53,445 deaths from occupational illness.iii

Please share your thoughts below and feel free to use any of this information as you make the case for workplace safety and health.

Frank Hearl, PE

Mr. Hearl is the NIOSH Economics Program Manager and the Chief of Staff in the NIOSH Office of the Director.




iv. Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor. Economic news release: table 2. Fatal occupational injuries by industry and selected event or exposure, 2011 (preliminary). Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2012. Available at Accessed March 18 , 2013.

v. Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor. Economic news release: workplace injury and illness summary. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2012. Available at
Accessed March 18 , 2013.

Posted on by Frank Hearl, PE

22 comments on “Workplace Health Is Public Health”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Great blog. Good to know people having care on healthy workplace. Definitely workplace should be kept as healthy as our home. If it is not safe then it affects lots of people.

    Its great that attention is being lavished this week. Many progressive employers have been proactive in this area and in workplace stress, with their own and outside programs.

    This is the ultimate self-esteem corrector. Thank you for your post; it is a very important distinction…….

    Less employee illness means, less sick leave and that means more output than other organizations. So having a fit employee as important as an expert one.

    I disagree workplace safety and health IS NOT public health.
    Why does the government need to stick it’s nose in every thing?

    I like and love this useful information for healthy environment in companies. When a employee become healthy then he can afford his best service for employed company.


    This blog is great, I like this useful information for that workplace safety and health is public health. I appreciate it.

    great points altogether, you simply gained a new reader. What would you suggest in regards to your post that you made a few days ago? Any positive?

    PCA is a prime example of how workplace health is public health. That workplace was not fit for workers OR food production. Had it been fit for one it would have been better for the other, too.

    As a Naniamo Chiropractor I make sure my patients know that sitting for a long time at work is not healthy and that they need to make strides to take walks, get up and move and stretch at least 2-5 minutes each hour. Great information.

    I believe that we should not leave the risk of mental health issues behind. Current highly pressured job environment will bring impact to mental health that can cause physical health problems.

    Thank you for your comment, which raises an important point. NIOSH does have an ongoing research effort on stress and worker health including many useful references on our topic page. NIOSH’s Total Worker Health (TWH®) program highlighted the connection between stress and physical health problems in an article by Dr. Naomi Swanson and highlighted in the TWH® Newsletter; scroll or search to “Women and Stress at Work” by Naomi Swanson, Ph.D.

    I would tailor the approaches to be taken as to who the audience is; i.e. worker and managerial. On the worker level the line taken would be the avoidance of illness/injury resulting in time off and possible health care costs. At the managerial level the emphasis would be more (but not exclusively) on the need to comply with the relevant laws and statutes so as to prevent any legal action and penalties. I know that the latter may seem a little hard nosed but even the most recalcitrant manager would take this on board.

    Thanks for your comment. We usually do try to align our messages to best suit our target audience, both in terms of motivation and also based on who has control or authority to institute changes. For example, workers are often encouraged to follow all safety rules and wear their PPE correctly and consistently; while employers may be urged to install engineering controls, provide appropriate PPE to their employees, and take prompt action to correct problems. In the realm of motivation, because employers often pay health insurance premiums and also suffer productivity losses when their employees are sick or injured, in addition to fines and civil penalties, we try to make them aware that the “hidden” costs of exposure to hazards can also negatively affect their bottom line.

    “health professionals, employers, and workers see the interactive value of combining workplace health protection with workplace-based health promotion”
    We, definitely deserve a healthy and safe workplace. Workplace health is public health, indeed! Thanks for sharing.

    Absolutely fantastic posting! Lots of useful information and inspiration, both of which we all need!Relay appreciate your work.

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Page last reviewed: December 7, 2016
Page last updated: December 7, 2016