By Karen Angelo
Mounting scientific evidence shows a link between negative working conditions and health issues such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression.
To reverse this trend, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) awarded the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace (CPH-NEW) a five-year $6,357,027 grant.
CPH-NEW, a joint initiative of UMass Lowell and the University of Connecticut, is one of six federal Research Centers of Excellence for Total Worker Health in the country dedicated to advancing, protecting and promoting the health of the nation’s workforce. This third round of CPH-NEW funding brings the total to more than $15 million since 2006.
Introduced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the total worker health approach offers a holistic way of looking at employee health, safety and well-being.
“We are thrilled to expand our research and outreach to advance worker health and safety,” says Prof. Laura Punnett of public health and co-director of CPH-NEW. “Risk factors that cause stress at work can contribute to hypertension, obesity and depression, which were previously considered unrelated to work. Our research and education programs promote employee engagement to develop solutions rather than a purely top-down approach.”
Peer-mentoring Program Aims to Improve Health of Correctional Officers
Part of the funding will be used to build upon research and programs that improve the health of correctional officers, a stressful occupation. A study conducted by CPH-NEW showed that correctional officers in the Connecticut Department of Corrections had a life expectancy of 12 years below the state average. The health of new officer recruits declines rapidly during the first three years of employment.
The Connecticut Department of Corrections has been using the CPH-NEW Healthy Workplace Participatory Program, a tool that engages front-line employees with management to solve problems together. The process revealed that officers perceived a lack of personal safety at work, work-family imbalance, poor sense of job coherence, frequent prolonged overtime and sleep-quality problems. The team recommended a peer-mentoring program for new recruits.
“The peer mentoring program has been well received by both corrections managers and officers,” says Punnett. “We are evaluating the health of officers and if improved, the mentoring program will scale up to six New England prisons. We will continue to monitor the morbidity and mortality of this vulnerable and underserved workforce and work with them to develop solutions that will improve overall health.”
Reducing Stress in Health-care Facilities
Health-care workers, a major occupational group in New England, experience a high risk for injury and illness on the job. CPH-NEW will study the impacts of strengthening labor and management safety committees in six New England public hospitals. The project will evaluate the Healthy Workplace Participatory Program and its effect on worker health and related outcomes such as employee engagement, turnover and cost-effectiveness.
Sharing Knowledge with Employers, Researchers, Policy Makers
All employers can participate in CPH-NEW’s continuing and professional education, tools and training to implement total worker health in their organizations. CPH-NEW also continues to share scientific advances for researchers, professionals and policy makers.
“Our goal is to build a total worker health workforce by strengthening knowledge in occupational safety and health, ergonomics, health psychology and health promotion,” says Punnett.