While always an urgent issue, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought the impact of work on our physical and mental health into sharper focus. Inequities in workplaces and working conditions continue to be prevalent, with low-wage workers often needing more than one job to make ends meet. Health and Workplaces: Working Conditions and Public Health, A new report issued by the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington (UW), examines some of the issues and conditions impacting workers’ health and safety - and proposes ideas to better understand and support impacted workers. 

The four projects included in this report cover workers across a variety of industries, workplaces, and labor arrangements or statuses including gig or temporary work and full-time union-represented workers. All four projects, conducted by researchers at UW, address how conditions of employment have far-reaching impacts.

Findings from this report include labor unions promote positive health outcomes for union members and the broader community and are underutilized by public health practitioners and institutions. An investigation of the effectiveness of policy efforts to improve the recruitment and retention of long-term care workers found many factors influence the likelihood of long-term care workers leaving their position(s). These factors include but are not limited to low pay and difficult working conditions. Establishing a framework for identifying different work arrangements and the implications of those arrangements for health and safety exposure in the workplace allows for additional understanding of how these conditions may impact worker safety. Multiple studies and a review of current labor practices through a social determinants of health lens reiterate that poor conditions in the workplace, including long hours, low pay, and insecure employment affect the physical and mental health of workers and further disparities of racism and sexism.

Health and Workplaces: Working Conditions and Public Health features research conducted by teams led by UW MPH Jenn Hagedorn, Director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies, Bianca K. Frogner, Ph.D. candidate Allyson O’Connor, and Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Anjum Hajat. The report was compiled by Caitlin Alcorn, Kim England, and Rachel Erstad with copy editing and review done by Yasmin Ahmed and Andrew Hedden.

Many of the projects included in this report were funded by the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies through the Washington State Labor Research Grant (WSLRG). The WSLRG supports solutions-oriented research on aspects of labor directly relevant to policymakers in Washington State.

For questions and media inquiries, please contact Harry Bridges Center Research Coordinator Rachel Erstad at rerstad@uw.edu or hbcls@uw.edu. Hard copies are also available upon request.