Deborah Dickerson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, has been appointed to lead the Virginia Tech Center for Innovation in Construction Safety, Health, and Well-being (IC-SAFE). The IC-SAFE is a consortium of researchers, students, industry leaders, and worker representatives conducting interdisciplinary research to improve safety and health in construction.
Dr. Dickerson brings a wealth of expertise to the role. As a certified industrial hygienist, certified safety professional, and certified hazardous materials manager, Dr. Dickerson has 18 years of professional experience in the fields of occupational safety, industrial hygiene, and environmental compliance. In her more recent academic career, she has established a nationally recognized research program emphasizing control of health hazards arising from construction operations and the built environment. Specific projects have included risk assessment of asbestos and lead in public school facilities, control of silica in concrete operations, interventions to improve worker protection on construction sites, and radon-resistant home construction methods. She has been involved with the center since its inception, and had previously served on the leadership team in 2006-2010.
Having just been appointed to direct the center in July 2017, her first objective is to create a community of research affiliates and collaborators focusing on the concept of Total Worker Health®. Total Worker Health® (TWH) is an approach to protecting workers through the recognition that work is a social determinant of health: job-related factors such as wages, hours of work, workload and stress levels, cultural and socioeconomic factors, interactions with coworkers and supervisors, access to paid leave, and health-promoting workplaces all can have an important impact on the well-being of workers, their families, and their communities. Dr. Dickerson aims to create a research affiliate community which spans many pertinent disciplines: public health, behavioral health, environmental science and engineering, occupational health and safety, environmental justice, human factors, and construction management. A multidisciplinary research community such as this would be well-positioned to address issues that currently impact the health and safety of the construction workforce, such as: cultural and socioeconomic disparities, an aging workforce, substance addiction, communication barriers, work-related stress, and organizational system barriers.
A long-term center goal is to pursue a large-scale grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to create a Center of Excellence in Total Worker Health. In June 2011, NIOSH launched the Total Worker Health (TWH)® Program as an evolution of the NIOSH Steps to a Healthier U.S. Workforce and the NIOSH Work Life Initiatives. The TWH Program supports the development and adoption of ground-breaking research and best practices of approaches that emphasize the opportunities to sustain and improve worker safety and health through a primary focus on the workplace. The TWH approach integrates workplace interventions that protect safety and health with activities that advance the overall well-being of workers. Establishing policies, programs, and practices within the workplace that focus on advancing the safety, health and well-being of the workforce may be helpful for individuals, their families, communities, employers and the economy as a whole.