Health Consequences of Labor Policies and Work Design
Traditional occupational health research focuses on the identification of physical and toxic exposures in the work place. Some estimates suggest that between 1933 and 1997, unintentional work related accidents and injuries were reduced by almost 90 percent as a result of occupational health and safety regulations. It is likely that today a number of labor protection policies – workers compensation, unemployment, minimum wage – also have an impact on health outcomes through entirely different mechanisms and pathways. We rarely study those policies and the impacts they may have on health. In addition, scientists have identified key aspects of the work environment that have to do with its social organization that have major impacts on health and well being. Job control and job demands for instance have been linked to cardiovascular risk and sickness absence in a number of studies. Job insecurity has recently been reported to have an impact on health in several countries. The evidence on job loss and retirement has been more controversial with some studies showing health risks and some showing null results. We suspect that other work conditions particularly those related to flexibility and work family balance will play an increasingly important role in shaping the health of the workforce and their families in coming decades. These workplace policies may be of particular importance to women, low and middle wage earners, immigrants and older workers. A central aim of the researchers working in this area will be to study the health impact of these social and economic work place policies.
Current projects (listed in alpha order by PI):
Project Title: Evaluating the Health Benefits of Workplace Policies and Practices – Phase II
PI: Lisa Berkman, PhD, Thomas Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health
Summary: Although the prevalence of “family-friendly” policies in US workplaces has increased dramatically, few have been studied using scientifically sound designs. To address this, NIH and CDC formed the Work, Family, and Health Network (WFHN). During Phase 1, WFHN designed and conducted multiple pilot and feasibility studies. For Phase 2, the WFHN has been called upon to implement an innovative intervention based on Phase I pilot studies that is designed to increase family-supportive supervisor behaviors and employee control over work, and to evaluate the intervention using a group randomized experimental design.
Project Title: Evaluating Cardiometabolic and sleep health ebenfits of a workplace intervention
PI(s): Lisa Berkman, PhD, Thomas Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Epidemiology, and Director, Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, HSPH
Funder: Brigham and Women’s Hospital/NIH
Summary: To understand the effects of family-supportive workplace intervention on managerss’ cardiovascular health and sleep.
Project Title: Program on the impact of reproductive health and population dynamics on economic development
PI(s): David Canning, PhD, Professor of Economics and International Health, Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health and Jocelyn Finlay, PhD, Research Associate, Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health
Funder: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Summary: The aim of this research program is to build and sustain an active group of senior researchers and post-doctoral fellows working on the impact of reproductive health and population dynamics on economic development. A large component of the program will be to create new databases and merge existing databases of economic and population data critical for research in this area. We will also create databases of population policies and legislation, allowing us to trace out the effects of policy changes. We will make these databases available to other researchers in the field. We will analyze the effect of population dynamics on economic growth and poverty reduction. We will also investigate the effect of reproductive health policies on child health, maternal health, and fertility. An important part of the program’s efforts will be devoted to investigating the mechanisms through which reproductive health and population dynamics affect growth and poverty reduction. These mechanisms include population age structure effects, female labor supply, and the effects of health improvements in women. Longer term effects may come via increased health and investment in children. A broader goal of the program is to influence academics and policy makers in the area through the production of working papers, conference presentations, peer reviewed journal articles, and policy briefings.
Project Title: Social exposures, manager attitudes and work organization in health care: integrating the subjective with objective biomarkers of cardiovascular disease risk
PI: Grace Sembajwe, PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Harvard School of Public Health/Dana Farber Cancer Institute Cancer Prevention Training Program
Funder: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars Program at Harvard
Summary: This study will use objective clinical markers for cardiovascular disease to augment self-reported measures of health in the workplace by integrating areas of expertise in social epidemiology, workplace exposure assessment, and biological pathways.