Total Worker Health and Planning for Emergencies: Resources for OSH Professionals

By Trish Ennis CSP, ARM, CRIS
Executive Director, Colorado Safety Association

Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Professionals are frequently on the front line of responding to emergencies and critical incidents in the workplace. Emergency response activities present unique risks to responders, due to the unknown nature of the hazards and the heightened sense of urgency to take quick action. Training is key in situations like this. Planning for and caring for workers in emergency response is a component of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Total Worker Heath initiative. According to NIOSH, “Total Worker Health® (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.” The Surgeon General has determined work has a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of people, as many employed US adults spend over half of their waking lives at work, or engaging in work activities. The graphic below, from the NIOSH TWH page shows how assessing risk leads to understanding so that effective policies and programs can be developed.


NIOSH has a number of excellent resources available for the OSH professional looking to increase knowledge. A good place to start is the Priority Areas and Emerging Issues page. This is where NIOSH highlights the issues that are critical areas and emerging issues around worker well-being.

Another good source of information is the Emergency Responder Health Monitoring and Surveillance (ERHMS)™ page, which provides information that can be used to learn about and develop procedures for effective emergency response. While the page is primarily targeted at managing exposures to emergency response workers, such as, police, fire, emergency medical personnel, cleanup, repair, restoration, and recovery workers, there is a lot of good information that can be applied to all levels of organizational response to an emergency. In addition to documents and toolkits, there are links to the CDC and FEMA training sites, where users can register and sign up for free web based training on a variety of topics.

Another good source of information is the NIOSH toolkit for how First Responders can protect themselves from exposure to illicit drugs, including Fentanyl. During the course of emergency response activities first responders have the potential to come into contact with Fentanyl and its analogues in a variety of forms including powder, tablet or liquid form. In some cases, these exposures can lead to life threatening symptoms. The toolkit is comprised of a combination of videos, infographics and written guidelines including appropriate personal protective equipment. Working dogs, such as K9 units, working an emergency response situation are also vulnerable to exposures.

Check out the toolkit here. For more information on Fentanyl and other illicit drugs, visit the CDC NIOSH Opioids in the Workplace page.