Celebrating the 3rd International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health®

Posted on by Emily Kirby, BPH; L. Casey Chosewood, MD, MPH; and Adele Childress, PhD, MSPH

October 11-14, 2022, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Center for Health, Work & Environment (CHWE) presented the 3rd International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health®. Held virtually and in-person at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, the symposium is the only NIOSH-sponsored event focused solely on advancing Total Worker Health (TWH) research, practice, policies, and programs.

TWH is defined 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. Attendees from multiple disciplines and across the globe gathered for this one-of-a-kind symposium to examine opportunities to improve the health and well-being of the workforce.

The week’s events reiterated the importance of the TWH mission to help workers enjoy health across their working life. As Dr. L. Casey Chosewood, Director of the TWH Program, noted in his opening remarks, “if we get it right and operationalize TWH, people can go home from work with more health than when they arrived.”

Adapting to a New Normal

The 2022 symposium theme “Shaping Work Now and in the Future” was reflected by a new virtual conference track. This was the first time a hybrid model was used for the symposium, offering events virtually to attendees worldwide.

This symposium was the largest ever with more than 500 registered participants, representing 41 states and 18 countries. The event featured 8 hands-on workshops, 130 sessions, 23 posters, and 20 exhibitors, offering up to 19 hours of continuing education for attendees. The agenda was designed to offer the latest research findings and insights into the challenges workers and employers face in a rapidly evolving post-pandemic environment.

Reflecting on the Past, Preparing for the Future

During the opening ceremony, Dr. John Howard, NIOSH Director, reflected on the creation of “Total Worker Health.” The cascade of events that led to TWH began in 2004 with the NIOSH Steps to a Healthier U.S. Workforce Conference. Recognizing a need for a more holistic approach to occupational safety and health, the NIOSH WorkLife initiative was born, which was later renamed to “Total Worker Health.” This symposium builds upon successful past meetings, including the 2007 NIOSH WorkLife National Symposium and the 2014 and 2018 International Symposiums to Advance TWH.

Since the last symposium in 2018, the NIOSH TWH Program research portfolio has grown significantly. The Centers of Excellence for TWH grew from 6 to 10 centers and the TWH Affiliate Program doubled in size, with over 50 current affiliates. The number of academic institutions offering TWH certificate programs and graduate training also doubled. The NIOSH TWH Program published a textbook, the edited volume on TWH, and received an increase in funding. This includes an investment in mental health research largely driven by fundamental principles of TWH.

Workplaces and the world have changed since the last symposium following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. During her opening remarks, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC Director, noted that living through the pandemic has redoubled efforts to make workplaces safer. Evidence of this is seen in open conversation about and commitment to protecting workers’ mental health as much as their physical health, she said, emphasizing that healthy workers mean healthier communities. Colleen A. McGowan, Director of the NIH Office of Research Services, elaborated further on the impact of the pandemic, noting that it forced people to think about work in a new way and how to prepare for the “next normal.” Dr. Howard highlighted how these drastic changes can benefit the workplace, stating “Positive things can happen from this pandemic if we can learn from it, become better, and expand the scope of worker safety, health, and well-being.”

“If you want to better understand TWH, spend more time listening to workers”

Douglas L. Parker, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, delivered the opening keynote address, emphasizing the importance of TWH fundamentals, like supervisor support, leadership commitment, and giving workers a voice in their working conditions. Mr. Parker shared compelling stories of workers’ experiences with hazards in the workplace, highlighting the critical need for strategic planning to focus on workers and their needs. He emphasized existing and emerging issues facing workers, like heat stress, suicide, and impairment.

Mr. Parker highlighted significant observations and common themes from listening sessions with workers, including how issues previously considered to be outside the scope of the workplace are deeply intertwined with workers’ experiences. Workers shared an intuitive understanding of the connections between work and social factors impacting their life, like race, gender, and poverty. “If you want to better understand TWH,” he said, “spend more time listening to workers.”

Recognizing Leaders in the Field

The symposium explored the latest research and practical applications of TWH in real-world settings. Leaders in the field of TWH help produce new scientific knowledge and translate that knowledge into practice. The following awards recognize individuals for their outstanding and multi-year commitments and contributions to advancing the concept of TWH.

The TWH Founder’s Award is given to luminaries in the field of TWH in recognition of the original founder, Dr. Howard, who coined the term “Total Worker Health.” Congratulations to the 2022 award recipients:

  • Glorian Sorensen, PhD, MPH
  • Steve Sauter, PhD
  • Adele Childress, PhD, MSPH
  • Laura Punnett, ScD
  • Casey Chosewood, MD, MPH

The TWH Star Partner Award is dedicated to people who made significant contributions to move the field of TWH forward. Congratulations to the 2022 award recipients:

  • Sara Tamers, PhD, MPH
  • Liz Hill, MPH, CIH, CSP
  • Lili Tenney, DrPH, MPH
  • Cortney Cuff, MBA

Thank you to everyone who participated in the symposium. We would like to recognize NIH for graciously hosting the symposium and CHWE for their outstanding coordination and planning efforts. This continued support and partnership was instrumental in the success of the symposium.

What was your favorite part of the symposium? If you couldn’t attend, what would you like to learn more about? 

This blog is the first in a series covering the 3rd International Symposium to Advance TWH. Stay tuned for more blogs that will take a closer look at presentations, including a fireside chat with the U.S. Surgeon General, and find out how to keep the momentum going.


Emily Kirby, BPH, is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Office of Communication and Research to Practice.

L. Casey Chosewood, MD MPH, is Director of the NIOSH Office for Total Worker Health.

Adele Childress, PhD, MSPH, is the Team Lead for Workforce Development in the NIOSH Office for Total Worker Health.

Posted on by Emily Kirby, BPH; L. Casey Chosewood, MD, MPH; and Adele Childress, PhD, MSPH

2 comments on “Celebrating the 3rd International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health®”

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    Given the serious adverse impact on health that tobacco use has on worker health and public health in general, why are more employers not declaring their workplaces and campuses as tobacco-free zones? The responses that I have received when I have brought up this topic is that smoking (and presumably other tobacco/nicotine consumption) is a personal choice. While I have not brought this argument to the fore as yet, my response is/will be that that where that personal choice is exercised is and should be subject to limitation just as the use of marijuana, alcohol and lethal weapons currently is. In other words, it is one’s choice to smoke marijuana, drink alcohol, and carry/use firearms — you just cannot do it in many, if not most, workplaces.
    Perhaps I have answered my own question, but I would be interested in getting a response to the question as well as suggestions for how to get my company to adopt a tobacco-free policy which would be implemented over time. I am of the opinion that implementation of a Total Worker Health initiative would be incomplete if it did not address in some way the mitigation of tobacco use in the workplace. Thank you.

    Thank you for your comment. NIOSH recommends that all workplaces become tobacco-free and that employers make tobacco cessation programs available to workers. Worksite health promotion programs designed to improve worker health, like those that help workers stop or reduce tobacco use, have traditionally focused on individual factors and not taken work-related exposures and hazards into account. NIOSH recommends an integrated approach to addressing personal as well as workplace safety and health factors. Successful tobacco cessation programs comprehensively consider all factors, work-related, personal and community influences. For sustainability, employees, employers, and healthcare providers must work together to identify critical safety, health, and well-being concerns, solutions, and healthful lifestyle choices to include in the overall culture of the organization. The document “Total Worker Health Concepts to Enhance Workplace Tobacco Prevention and Control” provides recommendations for applying the TWH approach to workplace tobacco prevention and control. NIOSH has information about workplace smoke free policies and recommendations for the workplace at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/tobacco/default.html. Find more resources at https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/tobacco-use-cessation.html.

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Page last reviewed: November 9, 2022
Page last updated: November 9, 2022