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Longhurst Lab, UC Irvine School of Medicine, Samueli Center

Mindful Health & Safety in the Workplace Research

Sponsored by University of California Office of the President Risk Services, Dr. Jessica Drew de Paz of UC Irvine Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) is working in collaboration with the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine to research the impact of mindfulness on workplace health and safety.  The Samueli Center, where mindfulness courses are offered quarterly, focuses on scientific research and education in complementary and alternative medicine.  UC Irvine EH&S provides systemwide leadership in the area of injury prevention.

According to UC Irvine’s injury investigation metrics, nearly 70% of our top injuries involve a subject who is inattentive/distracted.  Mindfulness, embraced for over 2,500 years in the East, is the opposite of mindlessness, our primary coping mechanism when we are distracted, hurried, multitasking and/or overloaded.  Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”  

Practicing mindfulness entails training our minds much in the same way that people engage in fitness routines to train their bodies.  Kabat-Zinn’s 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which combines meditation and gentle yoga to help bring about moment-to-moment awareness, has been pivotal in bringing this skill to mainstream, western society.  Since its inception in 1979, more than 19,000 participants have completed MBSR and more than 9,000 people have completed professional training to become an MBSR teacher. 

Research continually demonstrates medical and psychological benefits of mindfulness techniques, which can significantly reduce chronic pain, lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and decrease stress, anxiety and depression.  Preliminary neuroimaging studies also suggest that regular mindfulness practice can enhance attentional focus, sensory processing, learning, memory and emotion regulation. 

The initial focus of the mindful health and safety research will be on nurses at UCI Medical Center.  Nursing as a profession ranks among the worst in terms of stress and work-related injuries, both of which increase the chances of making mistakes with patients.  In creating the “Mindful Health & Safety” program (an adaptation of MBSR) for this particular population, Dr. Drew de Paz has infused material regarding nursing stressors and safety issues, along with an emphasis on the importance of caring for the caretaker.  Our hypothesis is that nurses who participate in this program will:

Significantly reduce:

  • Work-related injuries
  • Patient errors
  • Stress levels
  • Sick days
  • Organizational costs

Significantly increase:

  • Mindful attention
  • Well-being
  • Job retention

This research project seeks to offer a new paradigm for creating safe and healthy workplaces across a variety of industries.