IMPROVING HEALTH POLICY AND PRACTICE
For the past 80 years, faculty, staff and students from the Gillings School have sought to put research into practice. From shaping local, state, and federal policies and regulations to helping a wide range of health organizations improve their processes, and putting proven interventions to work in clinics, schools, other organizations and communities, the reach and expertise of Gillings faculty from every department have influenced public health policy and practice in North Carolina and across the world.
Photo: A Carolina PROSPER team member swabs a sink faucet handle to test for the presence of coronavirus.
HELPING LOCAL BUSINESSES SURVIVE AND THRIVE
Small- and medium-sized businesses play a critically important role in N.C.’s economy. The coronavirus pandemic had a crushing impact on many of these businesses and their employees.
In response, the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Education and Research Center (NC OSHERC) within the Gillings School created a new study, Carolina PROSPER (Promoting Safe Practices for Employees’ Return), to assist businesses in staying open or re-opening safely while maintaining a healthy workforce. The study was funded by the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory and is led by Gillings School Senior Associate Dean Laura Linnan, ScD, and Leena Nylander-French, PhD, professor of environmental sciences and engineering and director of NC OSHERC.
Using a Total Worker Health® (TWH) approach, the team developed technical assistance on best practices that encouraged worker safety for participating businesses. This included testing workplace surfaces for coronavirus, encouraging healthy behaviors, maintaining employee mental health, implementing infection control, improving ventilation, addressing ergonomic factors and strengthening leadership approaches. Carolina PROSPER is one of the first efforts to implement a TWH approach to worker safety and health during an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PROSPER team is continuing to consult with area businesses and has applied for additional funding. The team hopes to continue their work with new businesses in the future, take advantage of existing collaborations and forge new partnerships to be able to deliver evidence-based occupational safety and health resources and guidance to businesses locally and nationally.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF PROTECTING PUBLIC HEALTH FROM ENVIRONMENTAL EXPOSURES
This year, the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering (ESE) celebrates a century of impact toward safe and abundant water, healthy air and equitable policy solutions for a sustainable future on this planet.
Faculty, students and alumni are working to address the most critical threats to public health and the environment, many of which have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities. These threats include climate change, COVID-19 and other viruses transported by airborne particles, hazardous agents in contaminated floodwaters, antibiotic resistance, air pollution from wildfires, water availability in low-income countries, and the impacts of extreme weather.
This work is uniquely possible at the Gillings School, where engineering, science and public health are found together and where health equity has always been a central part of our mission.
“As environmental scientists and engineers located within the top public school of public health, ESE is ideally positioned to provide holistic, intersectoral responses to mitigate and prepare for the pressing environmental challenges,” said Barbara Turpin, PhD, professor and chair of environmental sciences and engineering. “On the occasion of our centennial, we affirm our commitment to build public health resilience to climate and environmental change.”
ESE is celebrating throughout the year with a seminar series, paired student and alumni stories, student speed talks and a keynote lecture from alumnus Gary White, CEO of Water.org, which can be found at sph.unc.edu/ESE-centennial. Department leaders are also looking forward to an in-person celebration when the pandemic allows.