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Unhealthy Work: Causes, Consequences, Cures
Edited by Peter L. Schnall, Marnie Dobson, and Ellen Rosskam
Critical Approaches in the Health Social Sciences Series, Series Editor: Ray H. Elling

Voted BEST Labour Book of 2009 by New Unionism Blog

Want to know more about this award winning book and the editors? A complete video recording of the seminar Global Epidemics: The Contribution of Work held by the editors at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, as well as a PDF presentation are available here.

Read the Introduction—Chapter 1 free right now, just click here.

"This book is a very useful summary and analysis of knowledge regarding working conditions that impair the health of millions of employees across the world. Its focus is mainly a North American one, but it also brings in an international perspective. It is a thought-provoking look at the alarmingly bad and worsening working conditions faced by masses of employees and how these impact on physical (mainly cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes) and mental illness (mainly depression) as well as lost productivity. It is a sad story, which illustrates that production of knowledge is certainly not enough to stop destructive changes in working life.

There is extensive documentation from epidemiological science supporting the conclusion that unrewarding, psychologically demanding work, which gives the employees no decision latitude, increases the risk of developing poor health. It is a tragedy that this knowledge is largely disregarded.

It is time to do something. Reading Unhealthy Work is a good start. It is my hope that it will be read in wide circles."
—Töres Theorell, Professor emeritus, Stressforskningsinstitutet (Stress Research Institute), Stockholm University, Scand J Work Environ Health, 2010;36(5):432

"Workplace hazards are not limited to dangerous chemicals and equipment. They also can be inherent in the work environment in terms of pace and intensity, degree of control over the work process, employment security, and other intangible "work stressors." The book's three parts explore the workplace and its relationship to health. Those parts include: changes taking place in the workplace in the context of the global economy, scientific research on working conditions and their effects on employee health and their economic costs to employers and society, and case studies and approaches for improving health at work. Editors Schnall (medicine, U. of California, Irvine), Marnie Dobson (medical sociologist and researcher, U. of California, Irvine), Ellen Rosskam (widely published author and educator in international public health) and 14 co-authors contributed to the book. It will interest a wide variety of readers, from employees and union officials to management and policy makers."
—Annotation ©2009 Book News Inc. ( Portland, OR

"If you are looking for a great “Health and Safety” gift for a union sister or brother, I recommend the book Unhealthy Work: Causes, Consequences, Cures edited by Peter L. Snall, Marnie Dobson and Ellen Rosskam. I have read the book and enjoyed it immensely."
—Ed Watt, Director of Health & Safety for the Transport Workers' Union of America

"I read this book with passion. I particularly appreciated the breadth of reflection about the sociological aspects together with real public health stakes to arrive at very concrete examples and suggestions of 'what to do'."
—Dr. Elisabeth Conne-Perréard, Occupational physician inspector, Department of Solidarity and Employment, OCIRT, Geneva Cantonal Office of Labor Inspection and Work Relations

"We have a winner in our Best Labor Book of 2009 poll. By a huge majority it’sUnhealthy Work: Causes, Consequences, Cures, edited by Peter L. Schnall, Marnie Dobson, and Ellen Rosskam. Why did this book gain a full 49% of the vote? We will have a full review in the next newsletter, but in the meantime here’s a couple of quotes that might help you see where the authors are coming from:

‘The ways in which work is organized… can be as toxic or benign to the health of workers over time as the chemicals they breathe in the workplace air.’ (quoting Erich Fromm, 50 years ago): “…economy must become the servant for the development of man. Capital must serve labour; things must serve life.”

As work has changed, so have work-related health risks. There are not many unions or OHS reps who could claim to have kept up with this change. Reading this book can change all that, and help us rethink our model of safety culture for a globalized world. It’s that good."
—The New Unionism Network

"In just under 400 pages, Schnall, Dobson and Rosskam paint a comprehensive overview of issues at the heart of issues of health, showing both their complexity and their overlaps with those of public health. While recalling the pivotal role of the structure of work at both the individual and social levels, the authors demonstrate step by step how, beyond the accidents and poisoning by chemicals, certain forms of work organization and the stress they induce may be at the origin of multiple impacts on health, while little or generally not seen in their relation to work: cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, mental health in particular. An absolute must read."
—Dr. Elisabeth Conne-Perréard, Challenges of Occupational Health, Revue Médicale Suisse No 248, 12 mai 2010, p 985,

"Written from the North American perspective, its highly qualified editors and contributors offer some valuable insights into the ways in which work is organized&mdash'its pace and intensity, the amount of control individuals have over the work process and time scales, job security and so on–and how such factors can be 'as toxic to the health of workers as chemicals in the air'.

Even though there is an American bias throughout, all those with an interest in reducing stress at work at a national or organizational level will gain a great deal of insight from this book."
—Jacky Steemson, RoSPA, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents O&H Bulletin August, 2010

"[The editors] have crafted a book that anyone interested in the health and well-being of working people ought to take a careful look at.

In the midst of the 'Great Global Recession of 2008,' working conditions are worsening and, as the case studies in Unhealthy Work reveal, the impact on physical illness (mainly cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes) and mental illness (mainly depression) as well as lost productivity, is staggering. Summarizing the case studies in the book, Schnall, Dobson, Rosskam and Landsbergis report that by the age of 50, most members of the U.S. workforce suffer from at least one work-related illness and sometimes more, including injuries (e.g., back, neck, and repetitive strain injuries); work-related mental health conditions (including burnout, depression, and anxiety-related disorders); or cardiovascular heart disease of one form or another, including hypertension and coronary artery disease [3, pp. 331-332].

What’s disturbing here is the fact that for the most part we now do poorly addressing even many of the workplace’s more obvious and easily seen dangers, as evidenced by such things as oil rigs blowing up, coal mines caving in, and high-tech workers being exposed to highly toxic cleaning agents. So, how do we move forward the important arguments that are raised in Unhealthy Work?

The book should be read by anyone who cares about public health, workplace health, and the skyrocketing costs of health care. Don’t let the science scare you; even a historian like me got the message loud and clear. 'Chronic illnesses, such as depression, hypertension, and coronary artery disease appear to be modern epidemics, the consequences of excessive environmental load (such as chronic stressors at work) on the human organism over prolonged periods of time' [3, p. 334]. Now, just like the Happy Meal, we are exporting this workplace harm to unsuspecting workers in the ever-expanding global supply chain. There oughta be a law!"
—Robert Forrant, NEW SOLUTIONS, Vol. 21(2) 312-315, 2011

"From time to time I will be 'promoting' this book because it is, in my humble opinion, one of the most important topics that we are going to face in the coming months and years. Try to get your public library to get it on their shelves. If you truly believe in a 'single payer health care system' this book is the 'road map' to get there! In this brave new world that corporations have created for us where fewer people are doing more work the question becomes: 'What happens to the accompanying undue stress and anxiety that comes along with it?' Even if you disagree, get it and read it anyway. It can only save your health and your life."
—Ron Gordon, veteran network television cameraman

Work, so fundamental to well-being, has its darker and more costly side. Work can adversely affect our health, well beyond the usual counts of injuries that we think of as "occupational health." The ways in which work is organized—its pace and intensity, degree of control over the work process, sense of justice, and employment security, among other things—can be as toxic to the health of workers as the chemicals in the air. These work characteristics can be detrimental not only to mental well-being but to physical health. Scientists refer to these features of work as "hazards" of the "psychosocial" work environment. One key pathway from the work environment to illness is through the mechanism of stress; thus we speak of "stressors" in the work environment, or "work stress." This is in contrast to the popular psychological understandings of "stress," which locate many of the problems with the individual rather than the environment. In this book we advance a social environmental understanding of the workplace and health. The book addresses this topic in three parts: the important changes taking place in the world of work in the context of the global economy (Part I); scientific findings on the effects of particular forms of work organization and work stressors on employees’ health, "unhealthy work" as a major public health problem, and estimates of costs to employers and society (Part II); and case studies and various approaches to improve working conditions, prevent disease, and improve health (Part III).

Intended Audience: Employees, unions, and worker-oriented organizations; employers, management, and human resources; policymakers, including legislators; funding agencies, including government and foundations; occupational health professionals and public health leaders; and researchers and students in public health, occupational health, labor relations, sociology of work, business, and related academic disciplines.

Peter Schnall is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, where he directs the program in work organization and cardiovascular disease. He is a recognized expert and active researcher on the role of occupational stress in causing hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Schnall is also the director of a nonprofit foundation, the Center for Social Epidemiology, based in Venice, California, whose purpose is to educate the public about the health consequences of work stress.

Marnie Dobson is a medical sociologist and is currently a research associate at the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of California, Irvine, and associate director of the Center for Social Epidemiology in Venice, California. She received her Ph.D. in social science from the Department of Sociology at UC Irvine. Her research interests focus on gender and work, emotional labor, and work organization/psychosocial stressors and mental health outcomes.

Ellen Rosskam is a policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, visiting senior fellow at the University of Surrey, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, visiting professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Work Environment Department, and principal at Rosskam International Development Consulting. She is a public health and social protection specialist, and is author of many books and scientific publications. Her latest book is Excess Baggage: Leveling the Load and Changing the Workplace (Baywood, 2007).

Associate Editors
Deborah R. Gordon is a medical anthropologist who has conducted anthropological research in health care settings since 1970 in the United States, Israel, and, since 1984, Italy. She is currently an adjunct professor in the Department of Anthropology, History, and Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. In 2002 she was awarded a grant from the NIH Human Genome Institute to conduct “community engagement” in a Tuscan town (Italy) for the International Haplotype Map project. In 2003 she began research with opinion leaders on work and health in California, which led to organization of a California Forum, “The Way We Work and Its Impact on Our Health,” and to this volume.

Paul Landsbergis is an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Graduate Program in Public Health, State University of New York–Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn. He is coeditor of the textbook The Workplace and Cardiovascular Disease and coauthor of recent review articles on job strain and cardiovascular disease and on interventions to reduce job stress and improve health. Dr. Landsbergis was a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on the Health and Safety Needs of Older Workers and of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Intervention Effectiveness Research Team.

Dean Baker is a professor of clinical medicine and director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of California, Irvine. He is also director of the Preventive Medicine–Occupational Medicine Residency Program. He has been actively involved in research on occupational stressors for 30 years, including collaborative research with Robert Karasek and his colleagues at Columbia University in 1980 on job strain and cardiovascular disease. He is coeditor of The Workplace and Cardiovascular Disease (Hanley and Belfus, 2000) and has published many papers on work stress and health outcomes.

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Unhealthy Work: Causes, Consequences, Cures

Editor: Peter L. Schnall, Marnie Dobson, and Ellen Rosskam
Cloth ISBN:
Page Count: 380
Copyright: 2009

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