Category Archives: Work environment

Dec 5 2013
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County Health Rankings & Roadmaps: Paid Sick Leave in New York City

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Beginning later next year, more than a million workers in New York City will have a brand new, health-promoting benefit: paid sick leave days that guarantee wages on a set number of days when they or a family member they care for is ill.

The new law, passed last June by the New York City Council and overriding an earlier veto by the mayor, begins to go into effect in April 2014. New York now joins San Francisco, Calif., Washington, D.C., Seattle, Wash., Portland, Ore., and the state of Connecticut in adopting at least some sick leave provisions.

Not every employee in New York City will get paid sick leave under the new law. The bill that passed the City Council initially applies only to businesses with 20 or more employees, who will be required to provide five paid sick days a year; that extends to companies with 15 or more employees beginning October 1, 2015. Smaller businesses and manufacturing firms are exempt from the paid leave provisions for now, though these workers will gain five days of unpaid sick leave, so they can take time off without fear of losing their jobs. Advocates hope to extend paid leave to cover those workers before long.

Advocates say paid sick leave is critical for smaller businesses, and especially for low wage earners. A survey by the Community Service Society (CSS) of New York found that half of low-income respondents said they have less than $500 to fall back on in case of an emergency, and according to CSS, without compensation for sick days, people are often forced to choose between caring for themselves or a loved one and heading to work.

A 2012 study in the American Journal of Public Health shows why the measure that is critical to individuals and families is equally crucial to society as a whole. The study found that lack of certain workplace policies, including paid sick leave, led to an additional 5 million cases of adult H1N1 (swine flu) during the 2009 outbreak.

Funding for much of CSS’s advocacy came through a County Health Rankings & Roadmaps grant to focus on four areas in two New York City boroughs, the Bronx and Brooklyn, that have very poor health rankings. The goal was to build support among small businesses, faith-based organizations and low-wage workers for passage of the ordinance through grassroots events, town halls, story collection and media coverage, as well as by encouraging partners and allies to include this policy as part of their policy agendas. The grant runs through November 2014 and CSS will be focusing its efforts, now that legislation has passed, on creating awareness and implementation of the new law.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy, research and advocacy at CSS about the new law and its impact.

NewPublicHealth: Key components of the legislation you advocated for passed. What’s next in your efforts on paid sick leave?

Nancy Rankin: We are continuing to work on this issue because we recognize that having a law pass is not the end of the story. We now need to do outreach to inform workers about their new rights and employers about their new requirements, because a new law requires compliance and it requires people to be aware of its provisions.

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Sep 23 2013
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Leading the Workplace Wellness Movement: Public Health Departments' Role

RWJF Headquarters Building--Lunchroom

GUEST POST by John Skendall, Manager, Web and New Media at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).

“How much are we really doing in the area of worksite wellness? Are we walking the talk and serving our employees the way we should?” This question was posed by Paul Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), in a session on workplace wellness at the organization’s annual meeting last Friday in Orlando.

Jarris said that health departments can do more to foster wellness among employees in the states and territories. “We in public health are not leading in this area,” he said. “We are the laggards.”

>>Follow continued ASTHO Annual Meeting coverage on NewPublicHealth.org.

Terry Dwelle, state health official for the North Dakota Department of Health and moderator of the session, agreed. “Health departments must have a worksite wellness program. We need to practice what we preach,” said Dwelle. He also said that the business case for worksite wellness needs to be made to convince employers of the value of investing in wellness.

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Sep 5 2013
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Webinar: Advancing Health in Communities through Building Successful Partnerships with Business

The business sector is a critical partner when it comes to promoting the health of a community. Employment, income and overall economic stability greatly impact employee and community health. Increasingly, businesses are expanding their efforts from worksite-based health promotion programs to community-wide initiatives to ensure their employees’ access to healthy choices and environments.

Next Tuesday at 3 p.m., a County Health Rankings webinar will take a look at how local health leaders and businesses can work together to advance the health improvement efforts in their communities. The webinar will feature guest speaker Cara McNulty, Senior Group Manager for Prevention and Wellness at Target Corporation, which according to webinar organizers is “known for its commitment to community giving.” McNulty will share examples and lessons learned from her experience at Target to answer key questions:

  • What kinds of partnerships are businesses looking for?
  • What do communities and businesses need to understand about each other in order to forge successful partnerships?

>>Join the webinar to learn how to build common ground with businesses in your community and advance community health together.

Aug 12 2013
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The Reverberating Impact of Low Wages

A recent vote by the Washington D.C. City Council requires large retailers to pay a minimum hourly wage of $12.50 an hour—$5.25 more than the current minimum wage of $7.25 nationally and $8.25 in D.C.— and the decision received wide attention, especially when retailers planning to build new stores in the city said they’d pull the plug on the projects if required to pay the higher salaries. But at least two recent magazine articles explain why there’s been a fervent recent push to try to push up the wages of those in low-paying jobs. New York Magazine recently surveyed 100 fast food restaurant employees in that city and asked, among other things, “can you live off your paycheck?” The answer appears to be no. The average pretax monthly pay for the surveyed workers was $984 while average monthly expenses including rent, utilities, groceries and cell phone bills was $1,115—which adds up to $131 more in expenses than pay.

>>Bonus Link: Why does income matter to health? See a NewPublicHealth infographic on how stable jobs and income lead to healthier lives.

And last weeks’ New Yorker Magazine added heft to the need to look at the current minimum wage rate, in light of just how critical that income is to many households. According to the article, while low-wage retail jobs were once squarely aimed at high school students looking for pocket money and those looking for supplemental income, in the last few years of stiff unemployment, studies find that current low-wage workers are responsible for 46 percent of household income. According to the New Yorker article, “Congress is currently considering a bill increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years…still a long way from turning these jobs into the kind of employment that can support a middle-class family.”

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Jan 14 2013
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Stable Jobs = Healthier Lives

Jobs and Health Infographic

The NewPublicHealth National Prevention Strategy series is underway, including interviews with Cabinet Secretaries and their National Prevention Council designees, exploring the impact of jobs, transportation and more on health. “Stable Jobs = Healthier Lives” tells a visual story on the role of employment in the health of our communities.

Some highlights:

  • Since 1977, the life expectancy of male workers retiring at age 65 has risen 6 years in the top half of the income distribution, but only 1.3 years in the bottom half.
  • 12.3 million Americans were unemployed as of October 2012.
  • Laid-off workers are 54% more likely to have fair or poor health, and 83% more likely to develop a stress-releated health condition.
  • There are nearly 3 million nonfatal workplace injuries each year.
  • The United States is one of the few developed nations without universal paid sick days.

Also check out our previous infographics exploring the connection between transportation and health, and education and health.

>>For more on employment and health, read a related issue brief.

View the full infographic below.

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May 9 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: May 9

Exercise May Increase Survival Rates for Some Cancer Patients

A review of 27 observational studies published between January 1950 and August 2011 finds that exercise may help improve survival for people with breast and colon cancer. The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Read more on cancer.

OSHA Begins 2012 Campaign to Protect Outdoor Workers Summer Heat and Sun

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has kicked off a national outreach initiative to educate workers and employers about the dangers of working outdoors in hot weather. The outreach effort builds on last year's campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of too much sun and heat.

Workers at risk include those on farms, construction workers, utility workers, baggage handlers, roofers, landscapers and anyone else who works outside. OSHA has developed heat illness educational materials in English and Spanish; a curriculum for workplace training; a dedicated website; and a free app that lets workers and supervisors monitor the heat index for a worksite. The app displays a risk level for workers based on the heat index, and worker safety information from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration heat alerts.

Read more on worker safety.

Johns Hopkins Establishes New Center for AIDS Research

Johns Hopkins University has been awarded $15 million over the next five years from the National Institutes of Health to establish a new Center for AIDS Research. A major priority for the new center will be to address Baltimore’s HIV epidemic. A report by the Baltimore City Health Department released last year found that despite national advances in HIV prevention and treatment, Baltimore continues to be among the top 10 urban areas in the country in HIV incidence rates.

At the end of 2009, there were 13,048 people in Baltimore living with HIV/AIDS and HIV infections were being diagnosed at a rate of almost one and a half per day. A 2006 study showed that the lifetime expense of treating each new case of HIV in Baltimore costs about $355,000. That expense, according to the Health Department’s report, “puts a significant strain on evolving health care systems, especially in a city like Baltimore with a high poverty rate.”

Read more on HIV/AIDS.

May 4 2012
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Faces of Public Health: Earl Dotter

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Dozens of haunting photographs of Americans working at hazardous jobs are currently on display at the David J. Sencer Museum at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s main campus in Atlanta. Called The Quiet Sickness, the exhibit shows just some of the photographs of Americans at work by award-winning photojournalist Earl Dotter. The photographs are drawn from Dotter’s decades-long trove of photographs of workers in industries that can be hazardous, even deadly, including mining, fishing, agriculture and construction. Louise Shaw, the curator for the CDC exhibit, says Mr. Dotter has “put a human face on those who labor in dangerous and unhealthy conditions over a wide range of occupations across the United States. Collectively, [the photographs] make the case for protecting the health of all working people, as well as speak to the dignity and self-respect of the individual worker in America.” NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Earl Dotter about his work.

NewPublicHealth: What has been the main focus of your work during your career as a photojournalist?

Earl Dotter: In 1969 I volunteered to become a Vista volunteer, after attending the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and was stationed in the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee. That was a landmark year in coal mine safety and health because of the Farmington mine disaster which killed 78 miners, and resulted in the creation of the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Occupational Health Safety Administration (OSHA). I was rubbing shoulders with coal miners who were sick with black lung disease, and in those days a coal miner was killed just about every other day. That, along with my art background, gave me an opportunity to begin what has become my life’s work. I started taking photographs during the war on poverty era and that time period was a formative one for me because I was getting to know coal miners and other subjects of my photography in a personal way. The pictures began to have a personal style to them. I was looking at individuals, not subjects. Real people I had come to know and that began to inform what I was doing in a personal way. When people view my images, I hope they can see themselves in those individuals. You may see common ground with someone who is seeking to become all they can be even if they have obstacles, or have not yet succeeded.

NPH: Why is it important to see ourselves?

Earl Dotter: If you can establish common ground, I think that can be a motivating force. It can give you the impetus to take a second look, to not pass by the images. And in that way these individuals who work to build our country command the attention of the viewer in a more personal way.

NPH: The Quiet Sickness has been exhibited before. What is that back story?

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Apr 27 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: April 27

Multi-Agency Effort Promotes New Safety Campaign to Help Prevent Falls at Construction Sites

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Center for Construction Research and Training have launched a construction fall prevention campaign to reduce both fatal and non-fatal falls among workers at construction sites. Falls are the leading cause of work-related injury and deaths in construction.

In 2010 more than 10,000 construction workers were injured in falls, and another 255 workers were killed, with Latino workers the most likely to die as a result of a work-related fall.

Read more on injury prevention.

College Students Frequently Text, Call While Driving

News often focuses on high school drivers who use their cell phones while driving, but a new study of 5,000 California college students by the University of California/San Diego's Trauma Epidemiology and Injury Prevention Research Center finds many older students are also distracted by their phones while driving. Among the findings:

  • 78 percent reported driving while using a cell phone (talking or texting)
  • 50 percent said they send texts while driving on freeway
  • 60 percent said they send texts while in stop and go traffic or in city streets
  • 87 percent send texts while at traffic lights
  • Only 12 percent said they never text, not even at a traffic light

“Distracted Driving is a highly prevalent behavior in college students who have misplaced confidence in their own driving skills and their ability to multitask,” said Linda Hill, MD, MPH, clinical professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and a lead author of the study. “Despite the known dangers, distracted driving has become an accepted behavior,” said Hill.

Read more on distracted driving.

One in Three U.S. Kids Hurt During Sports Needs Medical Treatment

A new report by SafeKids, an international safety organization, finds that one in three U.S. children who play team sports suffers an injury severe enough to require medical treatment. The report also found that half of the injuries were preventable; parents often pressure coaches to put their injured kids back in the game; and coaches would like more training in injury prevention.

Read more on sports injuries.

Apr 26 2012
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Are You Sitting Down for This?

Standing while working has become a way-of-work for some of the NewPublicHealth staff, and most report that after a brief breaking in-period the foot aches give way to a more alert, healthier-feeling workday. So we were amused, and delighted, to see this recent essay on the merits and drawbacks of standing versus sitting all day in PARADE magazine by author A.J. Jacobs. The excerpt is from Jacobs’ new book, Drop Dead Healthy.

Read the excerpt.

>>Weigh in: Were you standing or sitting while you read this post? Which would you rather be doing?

Mar 13 2012
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Workplace Wellness: Perspectives From a University and a Steel Fabrication Company

More and more businesses and employers are taking action to improve the health of their employees and communities at large. Recently, we spoke with Jeff Johnson, President of Johnson Machine Works, Inc., and Joy Schiller, Director of Wellness at Des Moines University, about why their organizations have made wellness a priority, from the perspective of two very different businesses—one big, one small; one academic, one industrial. Both are members of the Wellness Council of Iowa, a group of business leaders committed to creating healthier workplaces for employees.

NewPublicHealth: Why did your organization join the wellness movement?

file Joy Schiller, Des Moines University

Joy Schiller: There’s a real recognition that we as a health sciences university should be kind of a role model for the rest of the state and the nation. I tremendously appreciate as a wellness director that one of our goals is to provide education to our students and opportunities for wellness so our students on a personal level can see the benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. When they go out as health care practitioners, they will be more apt to reinforce to their patients the importance of healthy lifestyle habits and how critical it is to quality of life and preventing chronic health problems.

Jeff Johnson: Our business is a steel fabrication business. We’ve got skilled welders, cutters and fitters, engineering types, detailers and project managers. It’s a real rough-and-tumble kind of a business.

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