Can you share a little bit about yourself and your role at SafeTREC?
My career and expertise as a public policy analyst and researcher are in occupational safety and health (OSH) - the prevention of injury at work- and workers’ compensation (WC) – the provision of lost wages and medical care to those who get injured or become ill from work. In my public sector career, I worked as a researcher, a research manager, a policy and legislative director, an infrastructure innovator, and as a policy analyst. I’ve been a member of the American Public Health Association (APHA) section on Occupational Health and Safety and active in the Committees on Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) movement for over 40 years. While I’m currently semi-retired, I still do occasional project work for CalOSHA, and teach a fall undergrad course on OSH law and regulation at Sacramento State University.
My role at SafeTREC is as co-instructor each fall (with David Ragland) for the Public Health Injury Prevention and Control course through Berkeley Public Health, and a regular at the weekly Friday Seminar Series.
What sparked your interest in transportation safety research?
Transportation is a huge part of occupational safety and health. Transportation and vehicle injuries are the most prevalent cause of occupational fatalities. On the job transportation incidents kill 2,000 U.S. workers every year, accounting for over a third of all occupational fatalities in California. This includes long haul and delivery drivers, occupants of agricultural workers transport, and sales people. Fatalities during commutes to work are uncounted by official sources, but are also significant. In addition, hundreds of thousands of transportation workers are injured in preventable work incidents annually. Many of those injured are vulnerable members of society for whom loss of ability of work is not accompanied by effective access to social insurance benefits or compensation.
What current projects are you working on at SafeTREC?
My primary work at SafeTREC is co-teaching the Public Health Injury Prevention and Control course and participating in the weekly Friday Seminars to learn about the center’s transportation safety research, projects and community outreach. My interests revolve around coordinating occupational safety and health information sources with SafeTREC’s innovative use of data, as well as better documenting conditions that could prevent injurious on-the-job incidents. SafeTREC has done amazing work developing tools and resources like the Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS) and Street Story that can be used by transportation safety professionals and citizens alike to identify, acknowledge and take action on transportation safety problems that they face. I believe more work of that sort could be done in the OHS field.
What issues are you particularly interested or passionate about?
I strive to give voice to the voiceless. During the COVID pandemic, I felt like there was a lot of talk, and too little action, toward protecting workers whose jobs (health care, food production and distribution, public safety and transportation) required them to provide essential services while much of society could avoid constant exposure to the hazards. I believe in the dignity of working people. I am incensed by social conditions which lead to workers being injured in preventable situations through no fault of their own. I am driven by exposing and trying to change things that are not fair. My sense of such unfair injustice has been a guiding compass for my decisions of what to do and how to prioritize.
In my research, policy advocacy and teaching, I have tried to closely link the systems of prevention and compensation. When a preventable injury occurs, some party needs to bear responsibility of assuring that the injured party is made whole. How do we then use that responsibility and burden of compensation to influence behavior and minimize the continued cycle? I am also strongly drawn to the study of history, particularly to the eras in the U.S. when, and how, important social insurance programs were developed. I have a deep belief that understanding that history in the face of both past and current conditions could better inform program analysis and reform.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to walk, bicycle, and take public transportation. While not exactly a bucket list, I’d love to eventually cover all of the 126 named pedestrian paths in Berkeley, and ride on most of the AC Transit bus routes. I try to spend time with my 104 year old father back East every few months, and still enjoy hearing his harmonica repertoire and walking (slowwwwwly) with him. We raised our kids in Berkeley and have a close family. I have two grandchildren in San Francisco, and my daughter in Oakland is expecting next month. I still want to get to North Dakota (the only state I haven’t visited) and do more travel while I can.
This Spotlight interview was conducted in collaboration with UC Berkeley SafeTREC. The opinions and perspectives expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of SafeTREC.