Erika Sabbath is proving that better outcomes are possible when public health and social work join forces in the study of workplace hazards


Erika Sabbath holds a Doctor of Science from the Harvard School of Public Health, a background that she says fits in perfectly with BC Social Work’s vision of a new era of social work education, built across disciplines. “Applying social work tools to what have traditionally been seen as public health problems,” she explains, “could make a meaningful impact on both fields, and on the communities we work with.”

This opportunity to effect change is what drives Sabbath’s research. In her case, much of her aspired impact is directed at finding ways to alleviate workplace hazards—such as toxic chemical exposures, ergonomic strain, and stress—that contribute to social disparities in health as people get older.

This past year, Sabbath was awarded a K01 grant to this end from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and its National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Her project seeks to quantify the economic and health impact of work-related stress among hospital employees, including how certain kinds of stress, such as lack of flexibility in work arrangements or bullying by supervisors, disproportionately affects lower income workers.

Sabbath is also interested in working with populations, such as nail salon employees, who may experience adverse exposures at work, and who are traditionally under-represented in occupational health research. Media outlets across the globe have already covered her research on environmental toxins, including Time magazine, which reported on her study linking certain common workplace chemicals to long-term cognitive impairment.

1,200 Times Exposure

The intensity of exposure for manicurists is 1,200 times the level of exposure to toxic chemicals than for average Americans. (The New York Times)