Deborah Dickerson, associate professor in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and the Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and, has been appointed to lead the Virginia Tech Center for Innovation in Construction Safety, Health, and Well-being.
The center is a consortium of researchers, students, industry leaders, and worker representatives conducting interdisciplinary research to improve safety and health in construction. Dickerson has been involved with the center since its inception and previously served on the leadership team in 2006-2010.
As a certified industrial hygienist, certified safety professional, and certified hazardous materials manager, Dickerson has 18 years of professional experience in the fields of occupational safety, industrial hygiene, and environmental compliance.
Recently, Dickerson 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.
Dickerson’s first objective is to create a community of research affiliates and collaborators focusing on the concept of Total Worker Health. Total Worker Health 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.
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 to create a Center of Excellence in Total Worker Health. In June 2011, the institue launched the Total Worker Health Program as an evolution of the programs, Steps to a Healthier U.S. Workforce and the Work Life Initiatives. The programs support 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.