Media Contacts

Julie Kiefer

Associate Director, Science Communications, University of Utah Health
Email: julie.kiefer@hsc.utah.edu
Phone: 801-587-1293

Sep 20, 2021 10:00 AM

Utah Center for Promotion of Work Equity Research (U-POWER) holistically examines work and the work environment to determine their impact on worker health and safety.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has awarded funding to U of U Health to establish a new Utah-based Center of Excellence for Total Worker Health® as part of its national initiative to improve workplace wellness and safety through innovative collaborative work. The five-year grant will provide $7 million for the creation and support of the Center and its research.

The Utah Center for Promotion of Work Equity Research (U-POWER) reflects NIOSH’s long commitment to examining and promoting workplace safety and wellness. Total Worker Health (TWH) centers such as U-POWER holistically examine work and the work environment to determine their impact on worker health and safety. U-POWER builds on that holistic approach by examining the role of power structures in work conditions.

 “The frameworks of Total Worker Health and the social determinants of health have led to a deeper understanding of how work influences health, safety and well-being in the workplace, at home and in communities,” said Rachael M. Jones, PhD, CIH, associate professor of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Health in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine and PI of the grant.

“U-POWER builds on this understanding to explore how power is exercised through social, political and legal structures to create and sustain unequal access to safe, healthy work. We know this inequity exists because some workers experience high burdens of work-related illness and injuries, and some cannot provide for their needs and the needs of their loved ones because of low wages.

U-POWER aims to create a community of practice that includes investigators and community partners, as well as scholars and stakeholders at the University of Utah, the NIOSH TWH Program and Centers of Excellence, and others who share an interest in TWH. As Jones explains, “Investigators in U-POWER are united by a vision of work and workplaces that are safe, healthy, and equitable, and we are eager to build a community through which to realize this vision.” 

The center consists of a Planning and Evaluation Core to support innovative research, an Outreach Core dedicated to outreach and community engagement, and a Pilot Project Research Program that will catalyze new research from junior investigators. The center will support two individual research projects dedicated to engaging workers and workplaces in the improvement of work safety as well as an examination of the role of power in work equity. 

The grant also funds a subaward to Clemson University in South Carolina, with Angela Fraser, PhD, professor of Nutrition, acting as PI. Clemson will deploy a problem-based learning approach to improve environmental sanitation practices in long-term care facilities. “We believe that if workers are involved in providing solutions, they are more likely to implement them,” says Fraser.

With this award, Utah joins four other newly granted NIOSH TWH Centers of Excellence, raising the number of TWH centers across the country from six to ten. TWH Centers of Excellence are the premier mechanism of occupational health research, putting Utah at the cutting edge of work safety research.

- Written by Danny Nelson and Camie Schaefer

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