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Improving public health worker self-care and individual safety during and after a pandemic

The School of Public Health is involved with four federally-funded projects that will help Public Health Safety officers

Researchers from the Texas A&M University School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and Texas A&M Ergo Center are part of a grant aimed at helping to provide enhanced training focused on self-care, individual safety, and security of Public Health Safety (PHS) officers during and after a pandemic.

The initial year-long contract is for $380,950 and will be funded by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, with the opportunity to secure additional funds after the first year. The work is being done in conjunction with researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center

The cohort of researchers from Texas A&M includes Dean Shawn G. Gibbs, PhD, MBA, CIH, Mark E. Benden, PhD, CPE, S. Camille Peres, PhD, Adam W. Pickens, PhD, MPH, Dennis P. Johnson, MPH, CSP, CIH, and Martha K. Parker, MS, CPE.

The Texas A&M team will work to develop four of its current projects as part of the grant: Digital Human Evaluation of Training; Training While Lifting/Lowering/Carrying During Infectious Disease Scenarios; Wearable Sensors and Stress; and Ergonomics and Remote Workers Training.

“We are excited to have this opportunity to work with the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the U.S. Public Health Service to develop training that will greatly improve the safety of public health safety officers,” said Johnson, who is the project manager.

Digital Human Evaluation of Training (Benden and Peres)

Public Health Safety (PHS) officers are exposed to increased personal injury and illness due to the COVID-19 pandemic while treating patients in the emergency room and while working in laboratories. As a result, training programs for empowering the PHS officers regarding how to protect their safety and health are necessary, as is training on how to manage the increased stress and fatigue they experienced during the pandemic.

The primary aim of the research is to develop training to be delivered using the artificial intelligence tool Soul Machines Human, which creates digital humans that can be altered by the user to any gender, skin or hair color, hairstyle, and other traits. Using this, the trainee can create a digital trainer with whom they identify or feel most comfortable. This approach could serve as a follow-up and retention feedback to test knowledge and skills from original training. The information gathered would allow the researchers to identify how the training needs to be revised and identify the effect of the PHS officers to determine if they need additional support.

Training While Lifting/Lowering/Carrying During Infectious Disease Scenarios (Gibbs, Pickens, Johnson)

Lifting/lowering/carrying tasks are some of the most easily identifiable high-hazard tasks in industry scenarios. It is not uncommon in occupational settings to identify tasks that could result in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), develop and implement solutions and see results in reduction of risk. However, the work of PHS officers during a pandemic is different from traditional material movement. Personal protective equipment (PPE) worn in these scenarios can restrict movement, compounding a hazardous task by changing the posture of the individual wearing the PPE.

To curtail these risks, the Ergo Center team proposes developing and implementing training protocols specifically aimed at minimizing MSDs associated with tasks of infectious disease experts while focusing on maintaining the protection from PPE. The team will identify stakeholders to conduct interviews and surveys to prioritize scenarios and associated PPE that is needed in various infectious disease situations.

Wearable Sensors and Stress (Gibbs, Pickens)

It is widely acknowledged that first responders have stressful occupations, and there is a wealth of information on prevention and postvention assessments and intervention strategies for them. Infectious disease responders face many of the same stressors as first responders and previously published work can be translated to the individuals who deal with infectious disease.

Ergo Center staff members have a long history of using wearable sensors in a wide variety of research and are familiar with their capabilities to provide meaningful feedback to users. This work will evaluate current strategies of stress evaluation and management in first responder communities using wearable sensors. The researchers will use the information to develop best-practice training modules on wearable device use for stress management in infectious disease responders.

Ergonomics and Remote Workers (Benden, Johnson, Parker)

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of individuals who were working from home, and it is predicted that the number of remote office workers will continue to be higher than before the pandemic. As a result, the unique training needs of remote office workers must be met when delivering ergonomic and safety training. Researchers have determined how transitioning from traditional office work to remote office work affects workers’ health, physical activity, and productivity.

The Ergo Center’s Ergonomics and Remote Workers training for PHSs will contain modules covering ergonomics and equipment for the remote work environment, air and water quality of the remote worker’s environment, remote worker behavior changes to improve safety, wellness and productivity and best practices for organizations regarding policies and procedures pertaining to remote office workers.

“This is what we do—helping workers in the field do their jobs safely and more productively,” Parker said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the Texas A&M Ergo Center and the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. We have a valuable set of professionals who will transfer their extensive field knowledge into excellent training modules.”

Media contact: Dee Dee Grays,, 979.436.0611

Tim Schnettler

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