With the U.S. hospitality industry booming there are more jobs and revenue, but with this growth there’s also more people entering a workforce already considered an at-risk population by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
To help the industry understand and address the health and safety issues in hospitality work, University of Central Florida researchers are partnering with three other universities as part of a new five-year, $9 million grant from the institute. UCF will receive about $1 million of that grant.
The institute has identified hospitality and tourism workers as at-risk because of the mix of challenges they face including seasonal and unstable employment, high concentrations of young and immigrant workers who may be inexperienced, likelihood of exposure to violence, and exposure to hazardous materials. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford region has one of the largest concentrations of leisure and hospitality workers in the country, which is why the area was an ideal location for the study.
Employees in the leisure and hospitality industry in Florida also have a higher-than-average injury rate than all other industries in the state, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates.
“Worker safety and health is inherently important,” said Mindy Shoss, an associate professor in UCF’s Department of Psychology who is leading the project for UCF. “We’re talking about people’s lives and livelihood, and anytime we can make things run better or give people tools or resources they need, then we are hopefully doing some good.”
“I also think just from an economic and business perspective, it makes sense,” she said. “If your people are happy and they feel good, then your business is going to run better, and you’re going to make more money. I think it is a win-win situation.”
The project will assess the needs and key issues faced by Florida hospitality workers, analyze the root factors related to these concerns and work to develop interventions to try to improve them. The project, which involves the University of South Florida, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of Puerto Rico, will also work closely with and include input from major hospitality employers in Central Florida.
“The focus will be on hospitality workers in Florida, but the idea is that the findings could be generalized to others who have similar types of working situations,” Shoss said.
Along with research, there also will be workshops to improve health and safety in hospitality work and funding to support student research in the industrial and organizational psychology doctoral program and the hospitality management doctoral program at UCF.
The effort is part of an overall and ongoing collaboration between the four universities, known as the Sunshine Education and Research Center, that promotes graduate training and research in occupational health and safety.
UCF faculty members involved in the project also include Deborah Breiter Terry, a professor in UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management; Steve Jex, a professor in UCF’s psychology department and director of the industrial and organizational psychology doctoral program; and Kristin Horan, an assistant professor in UCF’s psychology department.
Shoss earned her doctorate and master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology from the University of Houston and her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Washington University. She joined UCF in 2015.