Occupational Safety and Health Training for Community Health Workers 

Community Health Workers (CHWs) work in many different settings and many different roles within those settings.  The list of settings includes state and local departments of health, community health clinics, hospitals, private medical and dental practices, and various not-for-profit organizations. In their roles they facilitate the client-organization relationship and often connect clients to additional local services and resources. CHWs are both catalysts and ambassadors in their communities. They are chosen for their abilities to relate culturally, linguistically, and socially with ethnically diverse communities.  Some CHWs work in states that offer or require a CHW certification, others do not, however, these certifications tend to focus on job skills not job safety and health.  

At the Harvard Chan ERC, we have partnered with the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) and an industrial hygienist to develop an Occupational Safety and Health curriculum for CHWs. The basic curriculum covers 16 hours delivered in 2-hour sessions over eight weeks. The content is customized to align with the organization’s mission and values and the CHWs role-context. Topics include not only hazards and mitigation of hazards, but OSHA workers’ rights, discrimination, whistleblower rights, etc. Public health theories such as the Social Determinants of Health and the Hierarchy of Controls are discussed as a framework for CHW work. This highly interactive curriculum employs role plays, motivational interviewing, and teach-backs to facilitate learning and features co-created documents such as CHW policies and protocols for home visits and community events, both of which are designed to help ensure the safety and health of the CHWs. This CHW training has been provided to CHWs at Nuestra Clinica del Valle in San Juan, TX, to CHWS shared between the Manchester (NH) Department of Health and Police Department and is currently underway with CWHs and lead inspectors in the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Boston.  

For more information about the curriculum, to discuss a training, or for hints as to how to develop a similar training curriculum, please contact Ann Backus, MS, Director of Outreach at abackus@hsph.harvard.edu