Laura Punnett

Laura Punnett, Work Environment, CPH-NEW, Center for Women & Work

Laura Punnett, Work Environment, CPH-NEW, Center for Women & Work

Professor, Work Environment
Kitson 200 S

Research Interest

Research Interests

  • Epidemiology of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
  • The role of working conditions in explaining socioeconomic and gender disparities in health
  • The effectiveness of workplace interventions such as ergonomics programs, health promotion, joint labor-management health and safety committees
  • Methods for workplace measurement of ergonomic exposures, e.g., the challenges of  "non-routinized" work; the validity of worker self-assessment
  • MSD surveillance, under-reporting, and health-related selection out of the workforce
  • The effect of ergonomic stressors on other health outcomes, such as acute injury risk, mental health, and pregnancy outcomes

Educational Background

Post-Doctoral Fellow, Center for Ergonomics & Department of Environmental and Industrial Health, University of Michigan, 1985-87

Sc.D., Occupational Health; Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, 1985

M.Sc., Occupational Health and Safety, Harvard School of Public Health, 1982

B.A., Hampshire College (Medical Social Science/Issues in Women's Health), 1976


My undergraduate education covered a broad range, from Latin American studies to the political economy of the medical system.  Following several years of work experience I decided to pursue graduate study in occupational health and safety.  My interest in women’s health led to an invitation to collaborate with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (now part of UNITE-HERE) on a study of carpal tunnel syndrome and other hard, arm and shoulder conditions among garment workers, which eventually became the topic of my thesis.  I then went to the University of Michigan as a post-doctoral research fellow, studying the automobile industry and learning about industrial ergonomics from an engineering perspective. 

I returned to the Boston area in 1987 to help found the Department of Work Environment, where I teach both ergonomics and epidemiology.  My research here has benefited tremendously from the broad perspective afforded by our highly inter-disciplinary mix of faculty.  I have also had opportunities to collaborate with colleagues at Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, the Institute for Workers’ Health (Toronto, Canada), and the University of Laval (Québec, Canada).  In 1996-97 I was a Visiting Scientist in the Division of Ergonomics, Swedish National Institute of Working Life.  I consulted actively with NIOSH and then with OSHA during the late 1990’s on the sequence of activities that led to the development of the (ultimately unsuccessful) OSHA Ergonomics Protection Standard. In 1999 I participated in the development of the proposal for a Hand Activity Level TLV® by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. 


During my second sabbatical from UMass Lowell (2002-03), I worked in the Industry-wide Studies Branch of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Cincinnati.  Also in 2002 I began collaborating with other faculty members at the UMass Lowell Center for Women and Work, which has stimulated a lot of thinking about gender disparities in working conditions and health.  In 2006, together with colleagues at two campuses of the University of Connecticut, we received a grant to establish the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace, a NIOSH Center for Excellence to Promote a Healthier Workforce.  That center grant has led to many publications and conference presentations and was renewed in 2011 for a second five-year period.

In 2007-10 I served as chair of the Scientific Committee on Musculoskeletal Disorders of the International Commission on Occupational Health. Other recent international collaborations have involved the Center for Musculoskeletal Research in Gavle, Sweden, and the Ecuatorian Technological University in Quito, Ecuador.  I also serve on the Advisory Board for the Occupational Health Surveillance Program of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Editorial Boards of several scientific journals in ergonomics and occupational health.  

Research Interests and Collaborations