By Sherkiya Wedgeworth

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Conference encourages feds to be 'wellthy'

Let’s face it, right now the media is teeming with scandalous and discouraging headlines about feds. From studies about low morale among workers to top officials being accused of doing naughty and negligent things; this can have an impact on a person’s psyche.

Last week, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – the agency charged with making recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths – in partnership with several other agencies, held a conference Oct. 8-10 aimed at helping federal leaders better address the health, safety and well-being of the federal workforce.

“This has been a challenging time for government,” said L. Casey Chosewood, director of the Office for Total Worker Health at NIOSH. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the IRS, the VA, GSA or the challenges in HHS with the Affordable Care Act … we know that there have been a number of significant newsworthy actions that have challenged many different departments. The role we serve in protecting the health and well-being of the people in our charge who deliver the services of the American people makes this conference so extremely important.”

The 2014 Healthier Federal Workers Conference, held at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md., attracted nearly 300 federal, state and private sector workers seeking to learn new and innovative ways to promote healthier work environments for their staff.

Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak welcomed the crowd by joining in on a push-up challenge with a fellow presenter mc schraefel (lower case deliberate), a professor of computer science and human performance and senior research fellow at the British Royal Academy of Engineering.

Lushniak stressed the importance of "walking the walk" in addition to "talking the talk" when it comes to encouraging workers to live healthier lifestyles.

“Ultimately, our job is to point our people in the right direction ... to provide that information,” he said, noting that "an important facet of the national prevention strategy is to empower people.”

Promoting empowerment is important, Lushniak said, because living well is a personal preference and we live in a society where a person’s state of mind on such matters often is: “Don’t tell me what to do.”

“People need to be given the choice,” he said. “Part of our burden is that we have to be able to make that person understand that they have a choice, but that the right choice is ultimately so obvious for their own good and for the good of their family and their community and their nation.”

The conference workshops and breakout sessions touched on understanding health benefits, desk exercises, telework and advances in medical technologies.

Susan Steinman, an assistant director at the Department of Health and Human Services' Federal Occupational Health service unit, is in charge of health and wellness at her agency. She said she was interested in learning what other agencies were doing to promote health within their organizations and was looking for new ways to engage her own staff.

“If we don’t take care of our employees' overall well-being, then it will affect their work,” Steinman said, noting that whatever health issues a worker is dealing with at home will subsequently be brought into the office.

Gary Bolden, a health and wellness educator/promoter at the Office of Medical Services for the State Department, led a workshop that encouraged workers to “Sit Less and Stand More.” Bolden has studied wellness efforts in the workplace, which he said is essential to the overall well-being of the employee.

“Wellness is important because it encourages people to communicate with each other outside of the office,” Bolden said.

And he may be on to something with that contention. For example, when a person finds a workout regime, healthy recipe or diet that works, he or she is more than happy to share it with like-minded individuals.

“We have found that promoting wellness in the workplace provides … a return on investment that is unlimited,” Bolden added.

Agencies that took part in the event included the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Personnel Management, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Occupational Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of the Army.

Posted on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:30 PM

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