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UNCG Workplace Health Network, Bryan School to share economic expertise with NIOSH Center of Excellence

Researchers both in UNC Greensboro’s Workplace Health Network and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have collaborated to bring a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Total Worker Health® Center of Excellence to the state, with the Bryan School of Business and Economics providing economic and business expertise to the center.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has funded 10 Centers of Excellence for Total Worker Health in the U.S. NIOSH defines Total Worker Health as policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with the promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being.

The new Carolina Center of Excellence in Total Worker Health and Well-Being, located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — along with new centers in California, Maryland, and Utah — will join six existing centers in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Oregon. The Centers of Excellence represent the extramural portfolio of Total Worker Health research that NIOSH funds to further its mission of protecting and advancing the safety, health, and well-being of the diverse population of workers in the U.S.

“We are thrilled to be part of the Center of Excellence in the Total Worker Health network,” says Laura Linnan, ScD, principal investigator of the Carolina Center, professor of health behavior, and senior associate dean for Academic and Student Affairs at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. “We spent nearly six months bringing interested collaborators together to plan for and submit this proposal.”

Dr. Jeremy Bray, Jefferson-Pilot Excellence Professor of Economics
Dr. Jeremy Bray, Jefferson-Pilot Excellence Professor of Economics

One of those collaborators was the Bryan School’s Dr. Jeremy Bray, Jefferson-Pilot Excellence Professor of Economics. Bray will serve on the center’s Planning and Evaluation Core, led by Linnan as well as a team of collaborators from Research Triangle International (Georgia Karuntzos, Ph.D., and Jules Payne, Ph.D.).

“The Carolina Center brings much-needed research and outreach on Total Worker Health to North Carolina and the Southeast region in general. I’m excited that UNCG’s Workplace Health Network can be a part of the center and am looking forward to providing economic and business expertise to the center on behalf of the entire Bryan School,” said Bray.

The Carolina Center also will offer competitive pilot project funding to address emerging issues in the future of work and worker health through a program co-led by Leena Nylander-French, Ph.D., CIH, professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Shawn Kneipp, Ph.D., RN, ANP, APHN-BC, FAANP, the Sarah Frances Russell Distinguished Term Professor at UNC’s School of Nursing.

In addition, the center will support an Outreach Core that will provide a wide array of educational opportunities to support worker health led by Alice Ammerman, DrPH, Mildred Kaufman Distinguished Professor of nutrition, and John Staley, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor of health policy and management, both at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Maija Leff, MPH, is the associate director of the Carolina Center, co-teaches in the Total Worker Health graduate certificate program, and is key personnel in the Outreach Core.

An External Steering Committee of national experts will meet regularly to advise and help guide the center’s work.

Each center in the network serves as a hub for Total Worker Health-related research and practice that builds the scientific evidence base necessary to promote the health of workers, create healthy workplaces, and accelerate the emerging field in developing new solutions for complex occupational safety and health problems.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed the very nature of work — and the work environment — change drastically,” Linnan says. “Essential workers, like the firefighters and health care workers we will study, have been on the front lines of the pandemic and these work-related changes. We believe the Carolina Center for Total Worker Health and Well-Being is positioned to serve as a catalyst for conducting important research and translating results into practice and policy-based changes that support worker health in North Carolina, the southeast region of the United States, and nationally in the years to come.”