The Center for Work, Health and Wellbeing at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health aims to find new approaches to address the many ways that jobs can affect health and safety, from potential exposures to physical hazards, to work-related stress. Established in 2007, it is one of six Centers of Excellence funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as part of the Total Worker Health® (TWH) initiative. In September, NIOSH renewed the Center’s funding with a five-year grant totaling $6.5 million.
“We believe that focusing on improving workplace physical and organizational environments can lessen risks and help both employees and companies thrive,” said the Center’s director and principal investigator Glorian Sorensen, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard Chan School.
TWH represents a relatively new approach for NIOSH, which had traditionally focused on occupational injuries and illnesses, Sorensen said. The initiative aims to identify policies and programs that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being.
The shift is in response to a growing body of research evidence linking work environment and health outcomes. For example, stressful conditions at work such as long hours and little supervisor support have been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and depression, and shift work with increased risk of sleep disorders, obesity, and injury. These factors in turn contribute to increased absences and turnover—and increased costs for employers.