Laura Punnett, who co-leads the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace (CPH-NEW), has dedicated her career to making workplaces healthier for people. The key, she says, is to get to the heart of the matter so that the right solutions are developed.
“Our own technical knowledge enables us to identify health risks and prioritize those solutions that are likely to be more effective. At the same time, if we listen to and involve employees, efforts to create healthier work places will be more aligned with their own needs and appropriate to the circumstances of their lives,” said Punnett.
The center’s work spans more than five years and was recently funded for another five with $4.5 million from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for this national Center of Excellence. Other funding for affiliated projects has come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Center for Clinical and Translational Science at UMass Medical School.
“Our research has made a substantial difference to the health of workers in nursing homes, correctional facilities and other businesses across New England,” said Punnett. “Now employers in other sectors are anxious to use our methods to identify and reduce sources of workplace stress.”
She is excited about being able to involve graduate students in Work Environment projects as part of their advanced training.
“It is valuable to see a variety of workplaces from the perspective of the workers, and to learn hands-on skills for identifying and fixing problems. It enriches classroom learning; we’re no longer talking about abstract issues, but about real-world people and situations. Students can graduate with a substantial amount of research and practical experience that is of great benefit in future job searches.”
Punnett, who teaches ergonomics and epidemiology, was one of the founders of the Department of Work Environment in 1987. She is also a senior associate at the Center for Women and Work. She credits the university’s spirit of collaboration among diverse disciplines as the key to her research success.
“The unique benefit of working in the Department of Work Environment is the broad perspective afforded by our highly interdisciplinary mix of faculty, as well as the enthusiasm for partnering with other departments,” says Punnett.