Family and Community Medicine Occupational and Environment Health Research

Occupational and Environmental Health Research

The occupational and environmental health research program offered through the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine leads research projects focused on farmworkers, poultry workers, and work and family issues.

Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Health Research

The production of vegetables and fruits in the U.S. and other nations is dependent upon the hand labor provided by migrant and seasonal farmworkers. While providing this essential service to society, farmworkers are exposed to numerous occupational and environmental health risks that result in high rates of physical injury and illness.

Farmworkers suffer psychological as well as physical stressors, including discrimination, separation from family, long work hours and fear of unemployment and under-employment that increase their risks for mental illness and substance abuse. While their work is essential and their exposure to harm is high, farmworkers generally receive low wages, and they are seldom provided health benefits by their employers.

We have conducted projects that have documented the prevalence of occupational and environmental exposures of farmworkers and their families, as well as health status among members of this population. We have also developed and implemented programs to reduce the occupational and environmental exposures that farmworkers experience.

Farmworker Projects

Poultry Workers

Poultry processing workers in the U.S. experience a disproportionate share of occupational injuries and illnesses compared to workers in other industries. Recent trends in this industry have resulted in a worker population that is poor, minority and increasingly comprised of immigrants. Occupational injuries among immigrant workers, including poultry processing workers, are one factor driving the health disparities experienced by minority communities.

Little research documents the onset of occupational injuries among immigrant workers in the poultry processing industry, the progression of these occupational injuries, or the occupational and personal characteristics associated with these occupational injuries. This information is vital for culturally and educationally appropriate industrial hygiene and occupational safety programs to reduce the number and severity of these occupational injuries among poultry processing workers.

We have conducted projects that have documented the prevalence of occupational injuries of poultry processing workers. We have also developed and implemented a program to reduce the occupational health risks experienced by these work.


Work and Family

The interconnections between work and family and their health-related consequences are central foci in the Department of Family and Community Medicine’s research program. Work and family are connected in several ways and each contributes to family member health.

Physical interconnections between work and family such as the transfer of harmful pesticides from work to home on workers’ clothes, skin and hair affects the development of workers’ children and contributes to health problems for multiple family members. Psychological interconnections such as preoccupation with work or emotional exhaustion can undermine the health of children and adults alike through poorer attentiveness to children’s needs, stress and unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Finally, several health conditions are exacerbated by the social interconnections between work and family, such as when parents are unable to miss work to care for sick children or when employment in jobs requiring non-standard shifts interfere with sleep cycles and patterns of physical activity and diet. Our research seeks to document and quantify the ways by which the interconnections between work and family affect health, with the goal of creating health education, intervention and policy that protects the health of individuals and families.

Maternal Work Schedules

Weaving Work and Family:

Workplace Flexibility & Employee Health