Online Program

Mapping Safety and Health Conditions in Low-Wage Work: Conversations with Workers in Central New York

Monday, November 2, 2015

Jeanette M. Zoeckler, MPH, SUNY Upstate Medical University Department of Family Medicine, Occupational Health Clinical Centers, Syracuse, NY
Michael B. Lax, MD MPH, Family Medicine SUNY Upstate Medical University, Occupational Health Clinical Centers, Syracuse, NY
Joseph Zanoni, PhD, MILR, Division of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, UIC School of Public Health, Chicago, IL
Background and Objectives

Work is an important contributor to health disparities because low-wage workers are frequently at risk of injury and illness from poorly controlled workplace hazards. Low-wage work occupies a growing proportion of the workforce in Central New York. The regional occupational health clinical center initiated a long-term project to address the occupational health needs of these high risk workers. Previously, the project surveyed 275 low-wage workers. In this presentation we report on the second phase of the project: Workers engaged in longer and more detailed conversations about the conditions of their low-wage work in order to amplify and deepen our understanding of the survey findings.


Low-wage workers (n=146) were identified through a variety of unions and community-based organizations. Focus groups (17) were conducted in workplaces and at sites in the community.


Low-wage workers frequently reported a clustering of physical and psycho-social factors that demonstrate the deleterious health impacts of low-wage work.  They regularly work under vague work arrangements in jobs with clear health and safety violations. Workers reported being marginalized through persistent unsafe conditions, wage theft, unfair work re-assignment, unethical approaches to termination, and flagrant disrespect.  Details were shared regarding the how the work’s precarity led to immediate  struggles against  homelessness and “deep poverty.”


In the Syracuse metropolitan area, there is a relatively large low-wage workforce.  Addressing the poor working conditions, including safety and health hazards will require sustained collaboration between the occupational health clinical center, workers, other community organizations, and unions.

Learning Areas:

Occupational health and safety

Learning Objectives:
Explain unique health and safety issues facing low wage workers. Define low wage worker population characteristics. Demonstrate occupational health disparity. Discuss qualitative focus group methods for community based research.

Keyword(s): Occupational Health and Safety, Low-Income

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Having earned the MPH degree in 2011 along with two additional years of graduate study, I have worked on both qualitative and quantitative occupational health research projects for four years. Under the direction of the medical director of an occupational health clinical center in upstate New York, I co-designed, conducted and co-authored this study. I analyzed all data and was responsible for 80% of written material prepared for dissemination.  
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.