University of Utah receives $7 million grant for new research center to promote workplace safety and wellness


Patrick Jones


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) awarded $7 million to the University of Utah Health (U of U Health) recently to establish a new Center of Excellence for Total Worker Health in Utah. The five-year grant will go towards the creation of the new Center to promote workplace safety and wellness while conducting research on how power dynamics affect the workplace to address continuing work-related illnesses, injuries, and low wages.   


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NIOSH funded ten Centers across ten states. The Centers of Excellence represent the Total Worker Health (TWH) research initiative funded by NIOSH to protect and advance the “safety, health, and well-being of the diverse population of workers in our nation.”

NIOSH defines TWH as “policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being.” The Centers act as “hubs” of this research. NIOSH director John Howard, M.D., said:

“The expansion of the Centers and their expanding regional presence will help us learn more about the important connections between work health, which is vital for employers to build and retain a safer and more productive workforce. The research conducted at these Centers generates new knowledge to help us keep workers safe and healthy.”

The new Center at U of U Health, called the Utah Center for Promotion of Work Equity Research (U-POWER), will specifically focus on the relationship between power, health, and work conditions in the workplace and finding solutions to those challenges. 

Rachael M. Jones, PhD, CIH, associate professor of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Health and principal investigator of the grant, said:

“U-POWER builds on [TWH] to explore how power is exercised through social, political, and legal structures to create and sustain unequal access to safe, healthy work. We know this inequity exists because some workers experience high burdens of work-related illness and injuries, and some cannot provide for their needs and the needs of their loved ones because of low wages.”

The Center will have a Planning and Evaluation Core for research, an Outreach Core for community engagement, and a Pilot Project Research Program for catalyzing research. It will also support two individual research projects to engage workers and workplaces in improving their work safety and to examine the role of power in workplace equity. 

U-POWER aims to create a collaborative community with investigators, researchers, and stakeholders from U of U Health and the NIOSH TWH program. Jones said:

“Investigators in U-POWER are united by a vision of work and workplaces that are safe, healthy and equitable, and we are eager to build a community through which to realize this vision.”