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UTHealth center to promote and protect worker health gains national acclaim

Photo of people representing different professions. Photo caption is Getty Images
A UTHealth center to promote and protect worker health accomplishes national recognition. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

A center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) dedicated to supporting the health, safety, and well-being of workers has earned special recognition from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Southwest Center for Occupational Safety and Environmental Health at UTHealth School of Public Health has been officially approved as an affiliate of the CDC/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Total Worker Health program, strengthening a partnership spanning more than 40 years.

“We are absolutely delighted to have been recognized in this way. This is an acknowledgement of our long-standing and ongoing work to benefit workers and their communities, thanks to the tremendous support of NIOSH,” said center director Elaine Symanski, PhD, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health. “It is very much our hope to further develop this great bond and shared commitment to improve worker health for decades to come.”

The Total Worker Health program is a research-to-practice effort that fosters an integrated approach, which is aligned to the center’s mission.

“Total Worker Health adopts a more holistic approach, building on the traditional focus of occupational health and safety on protecting workers from injuries and workplace exposures to chemical, physical, or biological agents,” said Symanski. “We’re now looking at a whole range of other factors that affect workers. The nature of work, the workforce, and employment arrangements are rapidly changing and impacting worker health, both positively and negatively. Moreover, our field is shifting its focus from keeping workers safe to achieving their best possible well-being. It’s therefore vital that our endeavors adapt to reflect these developments, and the NIOSH has championed this shift.”

The UTHealth center is one of 46 NIOSH Total Worker Health program affiliates, which include collaborations with academic, labor, nonprofit, and government organizations. The Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health has been continuously funded as a NIOSH Education and Research Center since 1977. Last year, it became the first institution in the U.S. to offer a Total Worker Health doctoral program, approved by NIOSH as a new Education and Research Center academic program.

Total Worker Health research-to-practice activities are also underway with the center’s board of advisors, an external committee of representatives from industry, academia, labor, and nongovernmental organizations.

“The importance of the Total Worker Health initiative that the center has embraced cannot be overstated in terms of how it will transform workplace practices and policies, not only in the oil and gas industry but in other sectors that underpin our economy in Texas, the United States, and the world,” said J. Jack Hinton, DrPH, chair of the center’s board of advisors and a fellow in health, safety, and the environment at Baker Hughes, a GE company.  

NIOSH assists its affiliates to enhance and broaden translational research, practice, and dissemination efforts. The center plans to build greater capacity among occupational and environmental health professionals and expand its education program, including developing a Total Worker Health certification program.

“We are also working closely with our NIOSH colleagues on other Total Worker Health initiatives, including joint scientific publications and scientific gatherings to promote the initiative and progress of this paradigm shift in occupational safety and health, which will undoubtedly affect how we conduct research, train the health and safety workforce of the future, and advance policy initiatives aimed at achieving worker well-being,” said George Delclos, MD, MPH, PhD, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences, and deputy director of the center. “More broadly, there is a wider awareness that work impacts our physical and mental health, and that there are many different influencing factors. So it’s a pivotal time in this field and we’re excited about being at the forefront of efforts to advance the health of workers both at work and in society.”

“We thank Dr. Symanski and the entire SWCOEH faculty for their vision and plans to improve worker well-being and congratulate the center on becoming an affiliate of the NIOSH Total Worker Health program,” said Faiyaz Bhojani, MD, DrPH, the center’s advisory board co-chair and regional health manager of Americas at Royal Dutch Shell. “We look forward to working together to drive forward this important agenda in pursuit of a more holistic culture of health for workers and their local communities.”

Media inquiries: 713-500-3030

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