Assistant Professor Erika Sabbath is a Principal Investigator of a project within the Harvard Center for Work, Health, and Wellbeing, a prestigious consortium of research projects based at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Harvard Center was recently funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (CDC/NIOSH) for $6 million from 2016-2021. The Partners Employee Research Database & Study (PERDS), which is the project within the Center that Sabbath leads, and which amounts to more than $1.6 million over the next five years, aims to analyze factors in the workplace that affect health and safety, including such measures as exposures to workplace policies and practices, work-related stress, and physical health hazards like lifting and bending.
PERDS is a collaboration between Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, Partners Healthcare, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. PERDS is a part of CDC/NIOSH’s Total Worker Health Program, which defines “policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards” while promoting “injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being.”
“It’s an honor to be leading a team within this partnership,” says Sabbath, whose portion of the study is being conducted with Co-PI Leslie Boden, from the BU School of Public Health, and a group of scholars from BU, Dana-Farber, and Partners HealthCare. “The project is a true partnership with Partners, who do far more than provide data – they are collaborators and co-investigators, and they are critical intellectual contributors to the project. “ The Partners team is led by Dean Hashimoto, who is an associate professor at BC Law School and is also the chief of occupational safety and health for Partners HealthCare.
Sabbath and her team are seeking to understand how work is organized in acute care hospital settings and how these organizational factors lead to adverse outcomes for workers, employers, and patients. To do this, they are analyzing a uniquely comprehensive longitudinal database of Partners Healthcare workers that has been in place since 2009.
The long-term goal is that the team will be able to craft interventions that improve outcomes for multiple stakeholders — workers, patients, and employers — by addressing and improving organizational policies and practices. Before this can happen, though, explains Sabbath, “we need to have a deeper understanding of the changeable policies and practices that lead to the existing adverse outcomes; the project will permit us to do this.”
“We also aim to disseminate our methods for building the database so that other researchers can construct something similar. And, down the road, we plan to engage with policymakers and practitioners to translate our findings to real-life public health practice.”
Sabbath is currently funded by the CDC to investigate the economic and health effects of psychosocial workplace exposures within the PERDS cohort. Learn more about that project in the BC Chronicle.