177640 PhotoVoice: A participatory action research method for empowering workers to identify and address workplace hazards - a study of university custodians

Tuesday, October 28, 2008: 10:30 AM

Marian R. Flum, ScD , Work Environment Dept., University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA
Amy K. Mock, MPH , Health and Safety Department, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Columbus, OH
PhotoVoice is a photographic participatory action research methodology that has been used primarily for community-based research to engage those with little or no power to identify and describe their concerns and to promote policy change to address those concerns. This project is among the first to adapt PhotoVoice to the workplace to involve workers in identifying health and safety hazards through photographic methods. This project was conducted at a large Midwestern public university as part of an evaluation by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) of a joint labor-management OSH management system that had been in place for two years in the Facilities Management Division. Though many improvements appeared to occur, custodian injuries remained among the highest in the country. The PhotoVoice project, conducted through AFSCME's worker-based evaluation team and UMass Lowell, engaged custodians on all shifts to take pictures of workplace hazards over 2-3 days. Custodians then returned to review the photos, describe the hazards, and prioritize them. Results were presented to over 90% of the 400 custodians with further discussion, as well as to the joint safety committee. Recommendations for policy change were reviewed and discussed. This method goes beyond hazard mapping to identify, empower and mobilize workers to create change in the workplace. Hazards identified were largely ergonomic, but also included chemical and medical waste exposures, faulty equipment, and poor communication mechanisms. Custodians gained a greater interest in health and safety, and a realization that these conditions were campus-wide.

Learning Objectives:
1. Recognize a photographic methodology for identifying and prioritizing workplace hazards through worker participation 2. Identify hazards of university custodians 3. Identify obstacles to improving custodian health and safety 4. Understand the use of PhotoVoice to empower workers to create workplace change

Keywords: Occupational Health, Occupational Safety

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I designed and conducted the study.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.