New School of Public Health embraces Total Worker Health!

Students: back row, left to right: Connor Jordan, Daniel Wentz, Mary Murphy Front row left to right: Sara Wild, Jadie Karratti-Abordo, Alisa Bruno
Class students:  Connor Jordan, Daniel Wentz, Mary Murphy, Sara Wild, Jadie Karratti-Abordo, Alisa Bruno

As many may already know, Oregon Health & Science University and Portland State University joined forces to create a new School of Public Health. At Occ Health Sci we are very excited about the School, including the recent selection of our founding Dean, David Bangsberg, M.D., M.P.H., who is a Portland native returning home to continue his good work!

What many may not know is that the new School has also embraced Total Worker Health. Back in 2015, the School’s inspiring Interim Dean, Elena Andresen, PhD, FACE, had the foresight to request a new required course in Occupational Health for students enrolled in the Environmental Systems and Human Health Masters Degree program.  She came to the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences for help, and I got the chance to develop the course for the School.

Students with Dr. Olson and Tri-Met's Harry Saporta.
Students with Dr. Olson and TriMet’s Harry Saporta.

I designed the course from a Total Worker Health perspective, which has been defined by NIOSH as “policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being” (Schill & Chosewood, 2016).  Several of my co-workers at OHSU pitched in to provide guest lectures in the schedule.

What’s cool about the Total Worker Health approach is that it considers the safety, health, and well-being of the whole person at work. This means that factors like stress and work-family conflict are viewed as occupational hazards that should be eliminated or controlled just like traditional workplace hazards such as noise, chemical exposures, or physical dangers.

Our friendly neighborhood transit company, TriMet, stepped up to support the first offering of the course in the Spring of 2016.  Students got to hear a guest lecture from Harry Saporta, TriMet’s Safety & Health Executive, and also tour the Central Garage and check out the training department’s state of the art bus simulator!. In class we also read and discussed research on bus operator safety, health, and well-being.

Recently retired Tri-Met's Allen Morgan demonstrates a simulator.
Recently retired TriMet’s Allen Morgan demonstrates a simulator.

Of course a highlight of any course is what the students bring to the table. It was a pleasure to work with and get to know the pioneering first batch of Environmental Systems and Human Health students who took the course!  (see picture of students with names).  Their self-selected project topics were inspiring, and included ergonomic protections for school teachers, injury prevention in commercial fishing, special safety hazards for undocumented workers, surveillance of drug use and abuse among healthcare employees, interventions to reduce workplace sedentary behavior, and reducing whole body vibration exposures among heavy equipment operators.

In all, it was a great first offering of Occupational Health in our new School of Public Health.  I can’t wait to find out what these excellent students do next, and the things they will do in their public health careers.

Submitted by: Ryan Olson, Ph.D., Associate Professor Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences