Harvard School of Public Health



After numerous long lunch meetings, the so-called Skipjack meetings, agreement  with JoeJoe Brain, the chair of the department, was reached on a partnership based on joint research activities and the HSPHLiberty Mutual-Harvard Program was inaugurated in late 1994.  At that time, the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health offered two elective courses related to occupational safety- one on ergonomics, one on occupational safety.  Also at that time, two  Research Institute staff  taught at the School.  There were no permanent faculty appointments in ergonomics or in occupational safety/injury.  There were no degree tracks in occupational safety/injury.   While the Department and School had outstanding reputations in other areas of science including occupational health and industrial hygiene, occupational injury and safety were not generally pursued as areas of investigation at Harvard either by faculty or by graduate students.

The new program sought to build a productive, on-going yet fluid interaction between the Institute and the Department as well as other resources at Harvard and Liberty.  The core focus was agreed to be occupational safety, injury and ergonomics.  The goal was to impact occupational injury, safety and ergonomics at a marquee level.

Early initiatives 1994-1997

The early initiatives in the program focused on bringing occupational  injury and safety to the fore.  A special session was organized at the 1996 American Industrial Hygiene Conference to discuss the importance of occupational safety and injury in occupational health and included representation from the Human Factors Society and the American Society of Safety Engineers.  This was attended by several hundred health and safety professionals.  Several international initiatives were pursued during this time.  For example in 1996 the Institute and Harvard partnered with Liberty ART in Argentina and the University of Buenos Aires to present ‘Cuidar a la Gente es un Buen Negocio’ two day symposium on occupational safety and health.  Three years later, this model proved successful and was a significant early step in engaging with the PRC, the prototype of the SafeWork Forums 3 Gorges 21(involving Joe Brain from the School, DavidQQQQ from the University of Aberdeen and John Kimber and Tom Leamon from Liberty) was presented to an audience of SAWS, other Chinese officials and representatives of safety organizations.

Also in 1996, the Institute and Harvard partnered with the then Liberty International Risk Services unit of international to host the Liberty International Asia Fellowship Program which hosted fellows from most of the Asia tigers and emerging economies.

The first in what would be a series of trainees from Harvard began in 1995 with occupational medicine residents conducting their research residencies on occupational injury at the Research Institute with LMRIS scientists (see also student trainee history at the end of this section).  In addition, the Institute and the School began a series of colloquia on topics of potential shared research interest between Institute and Harvard scientists.

The initiative of greatest scientific impact was the development of what proved to be the first Hopkinton Conference.  Organized and hosted by LMRIS with co-organizers  Harvard and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control-NIOSH, 1996’s Methodological Challenges to the Study of Occupational Injury brought an important occupational epidemiology community together to address both the importance of occupational injury but also to examine whether research methods used elsewhere in medicine and health, could be successfully applied to improve our understanding of occupational injury.  The conference resulted in a 1997 special issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine which has been considered a seminal publication in the field since its release.

The results of these early initiatives demonstrated that LMRIS and Harvard scientists could work together successfully on and effectively draw attention to occupational injury and safety.  From that point forward a number of key aspects of the program began to develop.

Faculty development

The initial successes of the program drew attention to the need for permanent faculty at the School who would be more directly focused on occupational injury, safety and ergonomics.  Consequently in 1998, the School conducted an extensive search for a new faculty member in ergonomics and biomechanics.  Dr. Jack Dennerlein was appointed Assistant Professor in ergonomics and safety in the Department in 1999.  (He was successfully promoted to Associate Professor in 2004.)

A second permanent faculty position, in occupational injury epidemiology, was conceived and recruited  for in 2002.  Dr. Melissa Perry was appointed Assistant Professor in occupational health and epidemiology in 2002.  Both of these faculty continue to collaborate with Institute scientists.

Curriculum development

Successes also demonstrated the need for a graduate curriculum in occupational injury, safety and ergonomics.  In 1997, the Department introduced a concentration in ergonomics and occupational safety in the industrial hygiene masters program.   The first doctoral student trained under the program graduated in 2002.   Dr. J.C. Chen made best advantage of the Harvard-LMRIS collaboration in his doctoral degree program in occupational health which examined back pain in professional drivers.  He subsequently remained in a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard until accepting a permanent position at the University of North Carolina in 2004.   In 2000, Harvard created an occupational health services doctoral program.  Institute scientists have also made substantial teaching and student mentoring contributions as core and supplemental faculty in that program over the past 5 years including 2 current doctoral trainees.

More substantial inroads were made in 2001 with a joint application by Harvard and LMRIS scientists for an inaugural core doctoral program specifically in occupational injury and safety  under the federally-funded Harvard-NIOSH Education and Research Center.  This was the first time that federal funds had been made available for this specific type of doctoral training.  The program successfully won initial funding for three years with the requirement to re-apply for more permanent five year funds after proof of concept.   Both the initial and the subsequent grant applications leaned heavily on a pre-existing 7 year history of joint graduate training which had begun under the program in 1995.   They also took advantage of a unique mix of LMRIS and Harvard scientists as core faculty in the program.  As part of this new doctoral program, LMRIS and Harvard scientists developed a new course in occupational injury methods which is offered bi-annually and is required for students majoring in the field.  All offerings to date have received excellent reviews  by students.  A summary of graduate trainees who have directly collaborated with the Institute under the program is provided at the end of this section.

As the program matured opportunities arose for postgraduate fellows to contribute to the partnership:

Graduate/Post-Graduate Trainees 1995-2005

The following table presents those graduate and post-graduate trainees (either, masters/residency student, doctoral student, or post-doctoral fellow) who have conducted their research substantially with scientists at the Research Institute over the time that the program has been in force.

Joint Research and Independent Study Training in Injury and Safety 

Student Year Deg. Training Type Topic  
M  MacDonald 1995-6 MPH Research Residency


Recurrent back injury


S MacDonald 1995-6 MPH Research Residency


Struck by/against injuries  
P Demitry 1996-7 MPH Independent Study Research methods and exposure assessment in Injury prevention and ergonomics


J Siskin 1996-7 MPH Independent Study Research methods and exposure assessment in injury prevention and ergonomics


J. Tacci 1996-7 MPH Research Residency How physicians treat acute back pain/ American Occupational Health Conference special session and presentation


A. Nimgade 1997-8 MPH Independent Study


Stress and back pain  
M. Mahmud 1998-9 MPH Research Residency Analysis of physicians practice patterns and national survey of physicians approaches to acute back pain


Z. Xia # 1998-9 Post-doctoral fellow


Fatal occupational injuries in the Peoples’ Republic of China


L. Holander  + 1998-00 MS Research Residency Women’s risk factors for upper extremity acute traumatic injuries


D. Lombardi * 1998-01 PhD Doctoral Temporal trends in upper extremity acute traumatic injury and reliability of self-reports of exposure to risk factors


K. Jin # 1998-02 PhD Doctoral Occupational low back pain in the People’s Republic of China


J-C. Chen 1999-02


SD Doctoral

Post-doc Fellow


Independent study on exposure assessment; collaborative research on vibration health effects (back pain) on drivers.


K. Bennie 1999-01 Post-doctoral Fellow Muscle fatigue associated with repetitive work





*  Joint with University of Massachusetts-Amherst

+ Joint with Simmons College, Boston

# Joint with Fudan University, Shanghai, PRC