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Your Environment. Your Health.

Tufts University

Assessing and Controlling Occupational Risks Among Immigrants in Somerville, MA

NIEHS Grant: R250H008776-04
Funded by the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH)
David M. Gute, Tufts University

Project Description:

The Somerville Immigrant Worker Health Project was a collaborative effort led by a community-based organization (Immigrant Service Providers Group/ Health – ISPG/H), a health care provider (Cambridge Health Alliance – CHA), and an academic partner (Tufts University), along with other partners representative of the community. These additional partners worked together to address occupational health issues for the populations that they serve at the community level as well as to gather quantitative and qualitative information regarding immigrant occupational health. This project ran from 2005-2010.

Somerville, MA is known as a “gateway” community due to the diverse variety of immigrant populations and community organizations, as well as remarkable temporal shifts in its immigrant population. This project was able to leverage existing peer youth and adult educational training and advocacy programs for immigrants. The research team extended the successes of these programs to design a sustainable, community-based capability to assess, characterize, and reduce occupational health risks in immigrant populations.

This project had the following outcomes:

A Teen Educator occupational safety and health program was put into place through collaboration with the Community Action Agency of Somerville  (CASS) and the  Haitian Coalition  , with technical assistance provided by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health  (MassCOSH) and CHA. This program had multiple purposes:

  • Bi-lingual Teen Educators collected information from immigrant workers living and working in Somerville, which provided a means of illustrating the need for occupational health and safety services in Somerville.
  • This information collection also provided an opportunity for educating the children of recent immigrants about occupational health and safety concepts and practices.

The Vida Verde Co-Op  has been launched. Vida Verde is an environmentally conscious Co-Op of Brazilian immigrant housecleaners in Somerville that promotes the creation and use of environmentally friendly (“green”) cleaning products and a structure which supports and empowers its members.

  • The impetus for this Co-Op was provided by the collaboration between the Tufts research team and another NIEHS-funded environmental justice project, the Collaboration for Better Work Environment for Brazilians (Project COBWEB) based at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
  • The work of the Co-Op has been publicized in several newspaper articles and was covered by NPR’s program “ Living on Earth  .”
  • The Co-Op was awarded additional grant support from Boston Catholic Charities that was used to develop a business plan and, at present, to implement this plan through increased marketing and the maintainance of customer satisfaction.

Dr. Gute and Heloisa Galvão, Executive Director of the Brazilian Women’s Group, were honored by being invited to address the Danish National Research Centre for the Working Environment (NRCWE) in 2008. This organization is the equivalent of the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In addition to speaking at the conference, both Dr. Gute and Ms. Galvão consulted with Danish and Norwegian colleagues regarding occupational health issues among immigrant cleaners.

The timeline below provides an overview of the activities involved in this research project.

This collaboration developed a Teen Educator program and a Co-Op to assess, address and minimize the occupational health risks to immigrant workers in Somerville, Massachusetts.


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