Health Links (HL): What pushed the Colorado School of Public Health to take a new focus on workplace health and safety?
Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH): The Colorado School of Public Health was finally in a place to refocus on workplace health and safety when a new, very dedicated committee chair was willing to get us up and running. We’ve always had many people interested, but we really needed a leader who wanted to champion the program. Other staff members and students were willing to join when someone was leading the effort. Once our committee chair, Christine Gillen, Associate Dean for Administration and Finance, was in place, it really took off because we already knew that we had overwhelming support from Dean Goff.
HL: Health Links partnered with the ColoradoSPH students to help get a few organizations, including the ColoradoSPH, up a running with their workplace health and safety programs. Do you feel the students impacted how the program came to be?
ColoradoSPH: Yes, the students were very helpful in getting us kick-started. We actually met with them twice, and the first time around we still didn’t have a champion in place so their recommendations weren’t really followed. However the second time around, the students really helped us solidify the fact that we needed a champion and nothing was going to change unless we had a committee chair in place. The student presentation at the end of the semester was helpful in understanding the existing resources we could promote.
HL: Why do you think it’s so important for the ColoradoSPH to “walk the talk”?
ColoradoSPH: As the Colorado School of Public Health, we inherently promote the importance of preventive measures to ensure good health later in life. We want to encourage people to adopt healthy behaviors and think about prevention, so we need to be doing these things correctly ourselves and be intentional with our messages.
HL: What does your workplace health and safety program look like? Do you offer both components to employees?
ColoradoSPH: For safety, we always comply with the structure and policies that the University has in place. We have a strong environmental health and safety program and we also have the University police and legal team ensuring we have a safe environment. It is a goal of ours to work on safety communication around events of concern, and mitigating confusion around some of these events so staff can be prepared. As far as wellness goes, we have monthly meetings that include faculty, staff, and students. ColoradoSPH is spread across three campuses-CU Anschutz Medical Campus, UNC and CSU--so we continually strive to include all campus in our efforts. We offer many programs to our staff including lunch n’ learns, “deskercises”, healthy eating and recipe tips, group stair climbs three days a week, and various other initiatives and activities. We promote standing desks in offices, ergonomic evaluations, gardening tips, and other things that people may want besides fitness and nutrition. We have also tapped into some events that are offered by the Anschutz Health and Wellness center such as yoga classes. We communicate these programs in our monthly newsletters, and students at CSU started a blog about wellness activities. Faculty and staff members on the CU Anschutz Health Plan campus are also eligible for “Be Colorado. Move.”. Particpiants can earn prizes and cash incentives for completing 12 workouts per month.
HL: How will you/do you know your program is successful?
ColoradoSPH: We started out simply tracking participation and asking employees for feedback on programming they had participated in. We’re trying to gauge what works, what doesn’t, and why. We’re tapping into interests of the wellness committee members to keep them engaged as well, because a lot of this wouldn’t be possible without them.
HL: What obstacles did you have to overcome to get your program started? How did you overcome them?
ColoradoSPH: The main issues we had to overcome were creating a cohesive vision and finding time for everything! Identifying a champion took a while, we are working with restricted resources and we had to find a way to implement a program successfully without a large budget. We also had to consider fairness and equity for everyone to be able to access the same things.
HL: What tip/advice would you give to a business that is considering starting a workplace health and safety program?
ColoradoSPH: Gaining leadership support and identifying a champion is key. Without those two things, it would have been very difficult to get our program off the ground. It’s also good to start small and work towards goals that will be easy for you to achieve, and building off of that success. Capitalize on the different interests and expertise of your staff, as they have a lot to bring to the table. Also, give people options and take a comprehensive approach to offering programs. Schedule activities at different times during the day; let people participate in person or virtually; and include activities that people can do alone or in groups if they want. That is how we’ve found success.