Occupational health

Workplace health promotion


Proper attention to workers' health and safety has extensive benefits:

  • healthy workers are productive and raise healthy families; thus healthy workers are a key strategy, i.e. goal, for overcoming poverty.
  • workplace health risks are higher in the informal sector and small industry which are key arenas of action on poverty alleviation, where people can work their way out of poverty;
  • safe workplaces contribute to sustainable development, which is the key to poverty reduction;
  • the processes of protecting workers, surrounding communities and the environment for future generations have important common elements, such as pollution control and exposure reduction;
  • much pollution and many environmental exposures that are hazardous to health arise from industrial processes, that may be influenced by occupational health and safety programmes;
  • occupational safety and health can contribute to improving the employability of workers, through workplace (re)design, maintenance of a healthy and safe work environment, training and retraining, assessment of work demands, medical diagnosis, health screening and assessment of functional capacities;
  • occupational health is fundamental to public health, for it is increasingly clear that major diseases (e.g. AIDS, heart disease) need workplace programmes as part of the disease control strategy.

Benefits of Workforce Health Promotion

To the organization To the employee
a well-managed health and safety programme a safe and healthy work environment
a positive and caring image enhanced self-esteem
improved staff morale reduced stress
reduced staff turnover improved morale
reduced absenteeism increased job satisfaction
increased productivity increased skills for health protection
reduced health care/insurance costs improved health
reduced risk of fines and litigation improved sense of well-being

These benefits are greater for low-paid workers in high risk occupations and settings, and in this way occupational health interventions can reduce inequities. Efforts made by WHO and its partners to strengthen key aspects of occupational health focus on increasing the coverage of workers in under-served countries and regions with basic occupational health services.

Workplace health promotion - What is it?

The European Network for Workplace Health Promotion has defined workplace health promotion as the combined efforts of employers, employees and society to improve the health and well-being of people at work. This vision of workplace health promotion places particular emphasis on improving the work organization and working environment, increasing workers' participation in shaping the working environment, and encouraging personal skills and professional development.

Workplace health promotion focuses on a number of factors that may not be sufficiently covered in the legislation and practice of occupational health programmes, such as the organizational environment, the promotion of healthy lifestyles, and non-occupational factors in the general environment. Non-occupational factors include family welfare, home and commuting conditions, and community factors which affect workers' health.

Workplace health promotion diagram

Workplace health promotion supports a participatory process to help promote a stronger implementation of occupational and environmental health legislation. It suggests tools for maintaining or strengthening a national healthy workplace initiative, such as an awards system as an incentive for participating enterprises, and creation of healthy workplace networks. To be successful, workplace health promotion has to involve the participation of employees, management and other stakeholders in the implementation of jointly agreed initiatives and should help employers and employees at all levels to increase control over and improve their health.

While some health promotion activities in the workplace tend to focus on a single illness or risk factor (e.g. prevention of heart disease) or on changing personal health practices and behaviours (e.g. smoking, diet), there is a growing appreciation that there are multiple determinants of workers’ health. In addition to person-focused interventions, workforce health promotion initiatives have moved toward a more comprehensive approach, which acknowledges the combined influence of personal, environmental, organizational, community and societal factors on employee well-being. A health-promoting workplace recognizes that a healthy workforce is essential and integrates policies, systems and practices conducive to health at all levels of the organization. Rather than a series of projects, workforce health promotion is an ongoing process for improving work and health. Effective health promotion assists employers to adopt appropriate administrative procedures and workers to use safe working practices. Occupational health personnel benefit from training and education in health promotion to enable them to implement it as a part of their occupational health practice.

Experience in workplace health promotion has shown that competitions and awards are valuable in engaging enterprises in occupational health and safety activities. Firms and enterprises achieve valuable publicity and a boost in staff morale through competing to become the most healthy and caring company.