Improving Underserved Workers’ Health and Safety
Low-wage workers, often immigrants and minorities, face an increased risk for injuries, obesity, chronic conditions, and mental health issues in the United States.
These workers often participate in the informal economy, take temporary or insecure jobs, work for small businesses, or operate their own small businesses. In these settings, they are exposed to health stressors, including rotating shifts, long hours with few breaks, and exploitation. They often work in sub-par conditions where health, safety and labor standards are not enforced.
These underserved workers have limited access to health care, medical insurance, and health promotion programs. If they take time off from work because of illness or for a doctor’s visit, they may sacrifice their wages and risk losing their jobs.
In addition, as a low-income population, these workers face a higher risk of behaviors that challenge health (e.g., limited physical activity, tobacco and alcohol use, poor nutrition) and contribute to chronic disease.
Promoting Health and Safety of Underserved Workers
In one of our special interest projects, the Illinois PRC advocates for improving access to health promotion opportunities and workplace safety among these underserved workers. Specifically, this project, part of the CDC’s Workplace Health Research Network (WHRN), addresses environmental and personal risks on employee health and safety among workers with few resources, such as home care aides and other workers in low-wage or insecure jobs. Project activities aim to improve health behaviors and reduce disparities in two ways.
First, we emphasize cross-cutting interventions and strategies, such as:
- Aligning interests of employers, employees, community members, and other stakeholders.
- Building coalitions and systems for protecting workers.
- Using peer groups, pooled and public resources, and social media to improve health and safety.
Second, we focus on integrated, multi-component interventions that address multiple health risks and concerns in various worksite settings, sectors, and sizes.
Illinois PRC scientists working on this project are experienced researchers with expertise in promoting the health of underserved populations, designing and developing employee health interventions in small and medium-sized businesses, and community-based interventions of underserved workers.
Members of this research team are:
- Naoko Muramatsu, PhD, co-principal investigator
- Lisa Brosseau, ScD, co-principal investigator
- Linda Forst, MD, MPH, co-investigator
- Emily Stiehl, PhD, co-investigator
- Ernestina Perez, MPH, research coordinator
Pilot Projects: Boosting the Health of Home Care Aides
Our initial pilot projects focus on home care aides, who are typically women of middle age or older who help older and disabled adults with housekeeping and activities of daily living for low wages. Usually these workers are of ethnic or racial minorities and have limited education. Home care aides experience higher than average rates of musculoskeletal injuries, and risks for slips, trips and falls while assisting their clients in their homes.
The Illinois PRC is conducting research that leverages the work of an NIH-funded pilot study, which tests an intervention that trains home care aides to increase the physical activity of the people in their care. In our special interest project, we consider these new questions:
- Is the physical activity of home care aides enhanced when they are leading their clients in a physical activity intervention as part of their daily care activities? If so, how?
- What factors contribute to slips, trips, and falls among home care aides?
The answers to these questions will inform our work for assessing and improving the health and safety of underserved workers in subsequent years.
Download an overview of this project, highlighted by the Workplace Health Research Network.
We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of our partners in our pilot study involving home care aides:
The Workplace Health Research Network, or WHRN, is focused on increasing the capacity of public health networks, employers, and their partners to implement science-based workplace health programs that can reduce health risks and improve the quality of life of working Americans, lower health care expenditures, and boost productivity.
Funded by the CDC’s Division of Population Health for 2014-2015, this network includes Prevention Research Centers at six universities, including the University of Illinois at Chicago:
- Johns Hopkins University
- New York University School of Medicine
- University of Minnesota
- University of North Carolina, network coordinating center
- University of Washington
In this network, the Illinois PRC research team leads and supports cross-network pilot projects collaboratively developed in WHRN workgroups.
As of March 2016, the Workplace Health Research Network has published 10 peer-reviewed articles and 3 reports, presented work at 11 academic conferences, and submitted four research proposals to the National Institutes of Health.
Read more of the network’s activities and accomplishments in this research brief.
Find the network’s reports, guides, and other resources at www.workhealthresearchnetwork.org.
View a September 2015 presentation (PDF) about Illinois PRC research promoting the health of low-wage workers.
This research is a special interest project funded as a competitive supplement grant (SIP 14-031) for 2014–2016 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Illinois Prevention Research Center (under Cooperative Grant No. U48-DP005010), which is administered by the Institute for Health Research and Policy of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).