Six Winning Ideas to Increase Worker Health and Safety

by Jeshua John, on October 28, 2020 at 7:58 AM

We are thrilled to announce the winners of The Innovation Fund cycle focused on new ideas about increasing worker health and safety.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear to us that the areas of worker health and safety were lacking focus, prioritization, and investment. The crisis has given even more clarity to this problem and to the need for new ideas aimed at solving it. We could not be more proud to fund the innovative work these winners are bringing to the table at this critical time. 

We are grateful to our partners at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their support of The Innovation Fund. We look forward to working with them over the next year to test, learn, and share the innovative work of our terrific winners. 

For now, please join us in congratulating these innovators for submitting winning pilot-ready and early-stage ideas.


Building Skills Partnership

Luis Sandoval
Infectious Disease Certification Program - $150,000 Winner

The safe reopening of the economy depends on the property service workforce to keep businesses clean and sanitized. Through its newly developed Infectious Disease Certification (IDC) program, Building Skills Partnership (BSP) provides COVID-19-centered training on personal safety and transmission reduction to help frontline janitors protect themselves, and maintain clean, healthy work spaces for building tenants. Through the implementation of janitorial standards, protocols, and control measures, IDC upskills frontline immigrant workers (who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19), during a time of economic crisis while enabling commercial buildings and businesses to safely reopen. 

“BSP is grateful to The Workers Lab for recognizing the efforts of its Infectious Disease Certification (IDC) program to ensure public health and safety during COVID-19 and beyond. BSP is most excited about the opportunity to address the need for career mobility within the janitorial industry through career pathway innovation. IDC provides a platform for janitors to be recognized as essential, frontline professionals through specialized skills training that enables them to mitigate COVID-19 as well as future pandemics.”
- Luis Sandoval, Executive Director, Building Skills Partnership

Connect with Building Skills Partnership


Justice for Migrant Women

Mónica Ramírez
Healing Voices - $150,000 Winner

For decades, the 2.5 to 3 million U. S. farmworkers and their families have lived in the shadows, with substandard living and working conditions, exposed to harmful pesticides and serious injuries, and earning poverty-level wages. The COVID-19 crisis has greatly aggravated their economic hardship and health and safety risks. Efforts to organize farmworkers to fight for better conditions have been hindered by the high levels of trauma, stress, and insecurity in the community, especially among the 900,000 farmworker women. The “Healing Voices” project will pilot the use of technology to engage farmworkers and bring them together in Virtual Support Groups that use the power of storytelling to support healing, teach workers their rights, build community connections, and inspire change.

“The Innovation Fund award from The Workers Lab is truly catalytic for Justice for Migrant Women. COVID has forced all of us to look for new ways of working. With this grant, we will be able to learn how to best conduct digital outreach to the fragmented and mobile farmworker community. By intentionally addressing worker trauma and isolation, we can better engage and empower low-income workers to drive change.”
- Mónica Ramírez, Founder and President, Justice for Migrant Women

Connect with Justice for Migrant Women


Labor Occupational Health Program, University of California, Berkeley 

Alejandra Domenzain
Building a Strategic Partnership for OSH Enforcement - $150,000 Winner

The pandemic has highlighted all the ways our systems to protect workers are broken. This project will leverage the collective power of worker organizations to “step up and step in” to protect California’s most essential workers. The Labor Occupational Health Program and the National Employment Law Project are partnering to test a new model for protecting workers, led by workers. They will build a partnership with worker organizations and California OSHA so that workers’ experiences and priorities inform enforcement strategies. This strategic enforcement partnership will seek to link worker organizations focused on immigrants, low-wage workers, people who are undocumented, and people of color who are being exposed to a range of hazards, with Cal/OSHA, the public agency tasked with enforcing worker protections.

“Too many employers have violated health and safety laws with impunity. This project will test an innovative model that builds worker capacity, voice, and power to make structural change. We will provide training and technical assistance to worker leaders, and convene a coalition of incredible worker organizations to advocate for improved enforcement. We are so thrilled to be a part of this partnership committed to ensuring workers’ rights are respected and their health and safety protected at such a crucial time.”
- Alejandra Domenzain, Coordinator of Public Programs, Labor Occupational Health Program, University of California, Berkeley 

Connect with the Labor Occupational Health Program


Legal Aid Justice Center 

Manuel Gago
COVID Chatbot: Enforcing Safety Standards - $75,000 Winner

Virginia was the first state in the country to implement enforceable, statewide COVID-19-specific workplace safety standards. It happened as a result of immigrant workers at poultry plants demanding better protections. Those standards will save many more lives if the workers who are most vulnerable are able to successfully get the state to enforce them. The Legal Aid Justice Center will build a COVID Chatbot to help workers, particularly immigrant farm and poultry workers, to identify workplace violations. If successful, this Chatbot will become a critical tool in the fight to ensure that the workers benefit from the safety standards they so bravely demanded to be put in place.

"We are very grateful that The Workers Lab understands that policy wins are not enough. Enforceable workplace safety standards only really matter if workers, particularly workers in high-risk industries, are able to actually enforce them. The Innovation Fund support will help us translate the community's policy win into an effort that saves more lives."
- Manuel Gago, Community Organizer, Virginia Justice Project for Farm and Immigrant Workers

Connect with Legal Aid Justice Center


Medical Center of the Americas Foundation 

Nancy Lowery
Nurse to Innovator Project - $75,000 Winner

In U.S.-Mexico border communities, poverty is extreme, and the binational healthcare system is complicatedly intertwined. In this environment, the Medical Center of the Americas (MCA) Innovation Center and its partners will link nurse innovators with local makers to cross-pollinate skills and make products/working solutions that increase worker health and safety. Their strategy aims to build a pipeline of Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) nurses and frontline health innovators. By harnessing their often ignored day-to-day experience and creative potential, MCA wants to change the status quo on health and on race representation in innovation. 

“It is evident with COVID-19 that nurses are one of the unsung heroes of healthcare. They work at the frontlines, often encountering situations that require creativity and flexibility to protect the health and safety of themselves and their patients. We are excited that this grant from The Innovation Fund will allow the MCA, in collaboration with nurses, other frontline healthcare workers, and makers, to design and implement a program specifically created for healthcare workers’ reality.”
 - Nancy Lowery, Director of Innovation, Medical Center of the Americas Foundation's (MCA) Innovation Center

Connect with Medical Center of the Americas Foundation


Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights

Jaribu Hill
Mississippi Essential Workers Justice Project - $75,000 Winner

Workplaces in the Deep South remain profoundly racially segregated. The most dangerous, unprotected jobs are assigned to Black and brown workers. The current pandemic has further exposed what has always been present in the Mississippi Delta. These stark disparities result in increased risks for injury and/or work-related illnesses or death. These problems are compounded by the fact that Mississippi does not have a Department of Labor or a state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights aims to  establish a first-of-its-kind occupational health clinic and learning center. This project has the potential to improve workplace conditions and provide affected workers with the medical treatment and know-your-rights information needed to save lives and reduce occupational injuries and illnesses.

"Receiving this award from The Workers Lab serves to further validate our efforts to shine a light on the many injustices Mississippi’s Black essential workers face as they risk their lives to feed their families. Our efforts will directly focus on a largely unmet need—the lack of affordable healthcare services for low-wage, non-union workers who are injured or become ill as a result of workplace hazards. This award provides critical support that will help us lay the groundwork necessary to institutionalize workers’ health and safety programs. As many advocates have said, ‘no one should have to die to make a living.’” 
- Jaribu Hill, Founder and Executive Director, Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights

Connect with Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights

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Topics: The Innovation Fund