Heart Health Month: what’s up in your workplace?

Close-up of a human cardiovascular system

Close-up of a human cardiovascular system: Image credit: CDC -NIOSH

Earlier this month we blogged about loneliness, which serves to remind all of us about the importance of our relationships with the people in our lives, including co-workers.

But what about the functional health of those pumping organs of ours? As we embrace Total Worker Health®, we recognize the  many circumstances and conditions impacting our health – which directly influences our safety, well-being and productivity. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reminds us on their Cardiovascular Disease and Occupational Factors Topic Page about relationships between occupation, work tasks, and cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and worldwide – and it continues to show up significantly as the cause of many deaths of Oregon workers while at work.

Here’s a few ideas for our organizations to positively impact heart health in our workplaces:

  1. Address the topic in safety and/or wellness meetings. Try out our Health Impacts Safety meeting guide: What’s my heart got to do with it?
  2. Advocate for healthier food and drinks at meetings, conferences, events and in onsite food services.
  3. Provide fruits and vegetables onsite either through farmer market opportunities, or onsite deliveries.
  4. Support heart healthy, safe commuting for employees.
  5. Recognize the impact of stress and negative personal interactions on heart health, and advocate policies and cultures of respect and kindness.
  6. Financially, administratively, and culturally support healthy exercise for employees and families.
  7. Work with your human resource team to ensure all activities, guidance and policies support fairness, confidentiality and good practice rules and guidelines.
  8. Encourage safe environments to generate employee-driven ideas, engagement and interactions for activities, walking meetings, and reducing the sedentary nature of work.
  9. Provide education to employees and families on healthy behaviors, and CPR and AED use.

What other things is your organization doing to promote heart health?

SAIF Corporation: Nutrition and Exercise
American Heart Association resources
OccHealthSci Resource Directory: Topic Total Worker Health<Best Practices<Diet Exercise & Sleep

Loneliness and work

connecting at work

Impromptu lunchtime community-building at OccHealthSci.

During the past few months, several articles in the popular press have addressed the topic of loneliness and work. Many of the articles referred to an original Harvard Business Review piece authored by Vivek Murthy, titled  “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic: Reducing isolation at work is good for business.” Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States from 2014 to 2017. During his tenure and as he commanded the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, he helped address public health issues including the Ebola outbreak, the Zika virus, low rates of physical activity, the opioid epidemic, and more.

Vivek Murthy shares that over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely and that the research suggests this may be a low estimate. Additionally, fewer people today report having a close confidante than in the past, and many employees report feeling lonely at work, including half of CEOs. Vice Admiral Murthy goes on to describe the impact such perceived loneliness could have on companies, not to mention the health of workers.

As we understand more about our brain and our health, and the importance of social at each of life’s stages, it’s duly time for us to actively address how we can help our friends, colleagues and co-workers to build friendships and social support.  Certainly, loneliness relates to the work and research we do in support of Total Worker Health, where we acknowledge the powerful components of both work and “life” hours. Imagine the power of social supporters at work – or the devastation should we lack it, or perhaps worse, face non-supportive or antagonistic co-workers every day.

What is your organization doing to positively impact and address this issue? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Adopt policies and a culture of diversity and respect.
  2. Train supervisors to both recognize workers at risk of isolation, and learn supportive supervisory and team building tactics.
  3. Evaluate the current state of connections at work- look at the quality of connections, not simply the number.
  4. Make strengthening social connections a strategic priority in your organization.
  5. Encourage others to reach out and help others, and accept help when it is offered.
  6. Create safe and comfortable ways to learn about colleagues’ personal lives.
  7. Create opportunities for colleagues to get together and develop meaningful friendships at work and outside the workplace.

In general, we can all help ourselves, our family members, and friends to acknowledge the key to healthy relationships amongst friends, and build understanding of high-quality relationships. As we all know, and probably share with our own children or young people in our lives – kindness matters. It always has, but perhaps we are noticing its positive impact even more today. When my dad died awhile back, the outpouring of love, condolences and support from my work community meant more to me than words can describe, as it does to others during times of sadness and joy. I cannot imagine going through that experience without it, yet so many do. Positive emotions enhance performance and resilency, including a boost to all aspects of health.  This is how community works!



From fruit flies to Alzheimer’s


Fly brain showing the accumulation of amyloid plaques (bright spots) that are a hallmark for Alzheimer’s disease.

My group is studying Alzheimer’s disease (AD). We all want to live a long and healthy life, but unfortunately, with aging comes the risk of developing diseases like AD. At 75 about 5% of us have AD and at 85 this risk increases to almost every other person.

AD is the fifth-leading cause of death, and in contrast to many other diseases, the number of deaths due to this form of dementia continues to dramatically increase.  To develop cures, which are currently unknown, we really need to understand the mechanisms and factors that lead to AD.

So we are using fruit flies to do this – yes, the little bugs that sit on your bananas at home. You might ask, how these flies can tell us anything about AD?  Even these little flies have a brain and they need it to find food, or a partner, or to avoid being eaten by a frog, or flying into a wall. Therefore, they also need the mechanisms that keep their brains intact. The advantage of these Drosophila flies is that they have been used in research for a long time – some of you might remember them from school. This means they are well understood and many methods have been developed to use them.

How do we use these flies? First, we determined that they do show deficits and problems similar to what we encounter as we age and develop these diseases. They become slower with age, they have problems remembering things, and they can show changes in their brain similar to what we find in AD patients. Next, we look at if we can find mutant flies that develop symptoms faster or slower, to identify genes that may be risk factors or protective factors in developing AD. We can also use them as a cheap and easily available model to test fly on bananadrugs or to study effects of environmental factors like sleep. Of course, we don’t only rely on flies. We have a network of colleagues here at OHSU that can test what we find in flies in mice, before eventually applying it to humans.

So, the next time you see a Drosophila sitting on your banana, be nice….

Submitted by: Doris Kretzschmar, Ph.D. – Kretzschmar Lab

Revisiting hair products and formaldehyde

hair pic

Image credit: Federal OSHA – Hair Salons: Facts about Formaldehyde in Hair Products

I was recently asked by the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) Science Blog Administrator if something new was going on regarding hair smoothing products. Apparently the blog I wrote for NIOSH in 2012 (Hair, Formaldehyde and Industrial Hygiene) received a number of new comments and visits in January of this year. I held my breath – hoping against hope – that perhaps there was finally some good news I had missed: perhaps there might finally be tighter legal restrictions placed on hair smoothing products. Sadly, nope. Instead I tracked a January 2018 headline in the popular press titled “Khloe Kardashian Can’t Get This Controversial Hair Treatment While Pregnant.” In reading the article, a good industrial hygienist simply must ask – are the products stylists recommend or use as substitutes truly formaldehyde free? Sadly, that was a point we hoped to clear up over 5 years ago, but it’s still hard for the average consumer to know the truth, although all stylists should have access to material safety data sheets, the quality of which we can’t always predict.

The one bit of good news, is that our diligent partner, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), has attempted to keep up with the inventory of products still used in salons as hair smoothers. In December 2017 they posted the most recent data on formaldehyde concentrations known or believed to be in the products. I would steer any consumer or stylist to this document: Hair Straightening Products Containing Formaldehyde. I am disappointed to learn that two products, cited in the 2010 investigation, still contain what most would consider to be unacceptable levels of formaldehyde/methylene glycol (ranging up to 7%). In light of our lack of ability to control the use of these products, unlike our partners in the EU, we can only hope that the salons still choosing to use them provide full protections for stylists, staff and customers. Or, that customers look elsewhere. And we can continue to push for legislation to reduce concentrations of these chemicals in consumer products.

NIOSH Science Blog: Hair, Formaldehyde and Industrial Hygiene
OccHealthSci Resource Directory:  Industry Topics – Beauty and Salon
Women’s Voices for the Earth – Safe Salons
OSHA: Hair Salons – Facts about Formaldehyde in Hair Products
Emerging Issues and Alerts: Hair salon product update archive

Institute scientists develop technologies to reduce the severity of skin cancers

DNA repair imageIn a recent paper in Nature Scientific Reports, Drs. McCullough and Lloyd report findings on prevention of skin cancer with DNA repair enzymes. These enzymes, normally produced in yeast, were enclosed into a lotion and applied like a sunscreen onto mouse skin, and tested for their ability to prevent non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSCs). Their data showed significant reductions in tumor burden in mice receiving the lotion containing the DNA repair enzyme relative to control lotion. These data suggest that efficient delivery of additional DNA repair enzymes to skin can prevent or delay the onset of NMSCs.

NMSCs, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most prevalent types of human cancers, affecting over five million people in the United States each year, and costing billions of dollars for health care and loss of work. In addition to high rates of disease in the general population, organ transplant patients have a greater than 50-fold increase in the incidence of NMSC, with increased risk of metastasis. Current methods for treatment of NMSC, including surgical resection of the tumor, are associated with considerable pain and morbidity. Given these exceptionally high incidence rates, strategies to prevent skin cancer have predominantly focused on recommendations for sun avoidance, restricted access of youth to tanning beds, the use of broad spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreens, and application of topical anti-oxidants. However, these recommendations have not sufficiently diminished the prevalence of NMSC, and development of novel methods to reduce or prevent NMSCs would not only alleviate suffering, but also substantially reduce health care costs.

Exposure to UV irradiation in sunlight causes NMSC by inducing several types of DNA damage that if replicated, lead to mutations and cancer. Humans have only one mechanism for repairing the most prominent forms of DNA damage and it is very inefficient. Following even a mild sunburn, the majority of DNA damage is still unrepaired days after the sunlight exposure. In contrast to humans, some organisms can utilize a different DNA repair pathway, with a specific critical enzyme to start the repair process. Drs. McCullough and Lloyd have designed and implemented a strategy to activate this second DNA repair pathway to rapidly accelerate the repair of sunlight-induced DNA damage and reduce the frequency and size of NMSCs.

Learn more about this work by reading the Nature Scientific Reports and visit the Lloyd & McCullough Lab Page.

Real-time health surveillance in remote regions

IMG_1416 (1)

Ugandan mHealth Study Team together with OHSU Neurology participants Dr. Raquel Valdes (rear) and Valerie Palmer (front). December 5, 2017

Health and disease surveillance in many low-income countries is poor, such that disease outbreaks are recognized very slowly, sick people in remote villages are monitored erratically, and the availability and utilization of vaccines and drugs are unclear. To address these problems, we undertook a feasibility study in remote regions of northern Uganda to determine whether minimally trained lay workers resident within villages could reliably transmit health-related information at regular intervals. This NIH-funded research study was conducted in association with Gulu University (Uganda) and focused on families with children suffering from Nodding Syndrome (NS), an epileptic disorder of unknown cause that has been regionally epidemic. We provided eight lay male and female mHealth workers with MagpiR software-equipped cell phones and asked each of them to transmit data weekly over 12 weeks from 30 households.  Data included coded household location, number of NS children/household, their seizure frequency, availability of anti-seizure medication, and injuries and deaths. Data collected from 240 households were transmitted weekly to OHSU and Gulu University where MagpiR instantaneously integrated data received across the entire multi-village population.  Displayed on a Google map, these data provide a real-time health geography that can be used to identify chronic disease hotspots, drug availability (spotty), missed potential cases (several found) and new potential cases. Clinical, education and research interventions can then be directed accordingly.  Since the MagpiR software supports a customized question set, the system potentially has wide applicability for data collection across health-neglected populations.

Austin Suit 2016 intern

Institute Director Steven Shea congratulates Austen Suits during the 2016 poster presentation.

While this mHealth feasibility study was successful, study implementation and execution faced huge hurdles. We sought to minimize problems by conducting two independent pilot mHealth studies among medical students in the Pacific Northwest and another sample attending Gulu University. Both pilot studies were part-supported by Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences Summer Research Award (2016, 2017) to University of Washington Institute student Austen Suits [1,2]. Technical problems in implementing the feasibility study included: hardware failure and theft (cell phones, solar panels); unannounced network upgrades and changing data plans; inconsistent and limited network availability; unreliable GPS satellites; power cuts and data transmission disruptions. Occasional technical problems with MagpiR software [3] and human error were additional challenges. The rainy season reduced road quality and heavily compromised bicycle transportation.  Access to household information was impacted by factors such as: outdated household records; absent households during harvest periods; requirement for translation of the consent form, and reluctance of a few householders to provide informed consent. However, the major impediments were institutional inefficiency and poor cooperation, which together consumed more than half of the 2-year grant.


Nurse Atonywolo Concy receiving her OHSU Certificate of Excellence for her oversight of the mhealth Team Members from Peter Spencer. Gulu, Uganda, December 5, 2017

The remaining objective in the current no-cost extension period is to explore the use of a portable tablet powered by ZidiR software that electronically records and transmits medical record information. This centrally involves our third partner, Nairobi-based MicroClinic Technologies, which developed and tested the software in rural regions of Kenya [4].

Submitted by Peter Spencer, Ph.D., Professor of Neurology and Occupational Health Sciences
(Dr. Spencer was appointed director and senior scientist of CROET in 1988, and continued in that capacity until 2009. CROET was renamed Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences in 2014.)


Supported by NIH R21 TW009927. The Uganda mHealth team and Acholi householders are thanked for their cooperation.


  1. Suits A, Valdes R, Palmer V, Spencer P, Kitara DL. Remote monitoring of populations with mHealth software: Proof-of-principle study of sleep behavior of U.S. and Ugandan students. Presented to the 10th International Conference on Science Technology, Engineering and Management 2017, Langkawi, Malaysia, December 28, 2017. Paper appended.
  2. Suits A, Palmer V, Valdes R, Palmer V. Remote monitoring of population health status. 5th International Conference on Innovation Challenges in Multidisciplinary Research and Practice., Singapore, December 15-16, 2017: Awarded Best Paper.
  3. https://home.magpi.com/
  4. https://gust.com/companies/microclinic_technologies_ltd

New OR-FACE fatality investigation report

screenshot of OR-FACE fatality investigation report_pump-jack scaffold fall, pub December 2017

Falls continue to be the leading cause of death in the construction industry. These deaths are preventable. A newly published fatality investigation report by the Oregon Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (OR-FACE) Program examines some contributing factors of a fall that took the life of a construction worker.

The worker, who was installing siding on an apartment building, died after falling 20-25 feet from a pump-jack scaffold. In addition to describing a number of safety hazards that were identified, the report discusses prevention recommendations such as ensuring the use of fall protection, taking into account site-specific conditions to select appropriate methods for safely accessing heights, and conducting regular inspections to make sure all safety provisions are in place.

OR-FACE hopes that these reports are used for educational purposes, to help prevent similar incidents from occurring. Download the report, or access it and other reports from the OR-FACE website.


Sleep and aging in the Portland community

NicoleDr. Nicole Bowles, a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Steven Shea’s laboratory, recently presented several short seminars to the Northeast Portland community. The seminars focused on sleep disorders and how disturbed sleep impacts the health of African Americans. Dr. Bowles also discussed methods to improve the bedroom environment in order to improve sleep duration and quality.

Dr. Bowles spoke as part of PreSERVE’s October Talk’n’Taste series. PreSERVE is a coalition of individuals from non-profits, health institutions and Portland’s African American community that seeks to improve the health of older African Americans. Talk’n’Taste is an educational series that combines health information presented by experts in the field and healthy soul food cooking. Talk’n’Taste is cosponsored by the Portland Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. At October’s event, in addition to Dr. Bowles talk on “Sleep and aging: how much sleep do I need?”, Andre Pruitt, MSW, PSU adjunct faculty and doctoral candidate, also presented a powerful talk on the need for increased African American involvement in research.

During the month of November, Dr. Bowles also gave a seminar at the AARP’s local chapter’s monthly meeting, held the second Tuesday of the month at the North Portland Police Station on Martin Luther King Blvd. She also led a discussion on sleep and aging for OASIS, Mt. Olivet Baptist Church’s senior group.

20171026_143604Here at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences we continue to look for new partners and organizations to share our research findings, and learn more about interests, needs and concerns of our community as related to health, safety and well-being. Learn more about our research, and outreach and education.

Wishes for 2018


As we move through this final month of 2017, all of us at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences wish you safe, healthy and happy holidays.  In addition, our staff and faculty share the following specific wishes for the coming year:

I hope that good ideas, careful science and hard work are always rewarded—-Steven Shea, Institute Director

We wish everyone a safe holiday season with a reminder to wear fall protection even if your name is Santa. #SantaWearsHisPPE #HomeSafe4theHolidays…..And you’ll hear us exclaim, ‘ere we buckled up and drove out of sight, Healthy holidays to all and to all a safe night —- The OR-FACE Team – Ryan, Layla, Barb and Jason.

We hope for more chances to get to know our colleagues informally – more ‘happy hours’ and get-togethers—-and, high compliance rates for sleep tracking—–The Hammer Lab – Krista, Janelle, Jason, Marcus, Shalene, Jackie, and Phoenix

I wish for everyone the patience to share their time and talent with others—– Sam Greenspan, Hurtado Lab

I wish for people to make more eye contact with people instead of their phones or computers—during lunch at work, group meetings, or when meeting friends. To realize that technology is a tool and not a substitute for relationships —– Anjali Rameshbabu, OHWC Manager

Wishing everyone a balanced 2018 while at work and at home—-Jen Prissel, Associate Director for Admin

During the holidays, take a moment to call a loved one over the phone (not through text!) to see how they are doing and that you are thinking of them. A small phone call can help promote human connectedness and bring a a sense of well-being to yourself and others especially in these technologically advanced times.—-Helen Schuckers, Dissemination Specialist

Happy Holidays to the many workers and employers who strive to improve the health, safety, and well-being of the workforce and their families —Leslie Hammer, Professor

My number one wish is for people to become more active citizens, but scientifically, if you know someone who uses any cannabis products for their sleep please encourage them to complete my short survey for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card https://is.gd/cansleep.—Nicole Bowles, Post-Doc Researcher

Wishing everyone Happy Holidays and a healthy environment—-Mitchell Turker, Professor

I wish for every person throughout the workforce to be treated respectfully and protected from harm — Dede Montgomery, Outreach & Education


What did we learn at “Navigating Mental Health at Work?”

DSC_5297-1We are always pleased when our symposia draw a full room: it tells us that our chosen topic is deemed both interesting and relevant to you, our supporters and partners. Last week’s Navigating Mental Health in the Workplace drew a high attendance, addressed serious concerns so many of us share, and left us with new resources and ideas. If you missed the event, you can access handouts and webinar recordings on our website.

The day was kicked off by Dr. Nancy Spangler, Consultant to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health for the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, on research relating to resilience. She shared what we do know about stress and resilience, including how it is affected by workplace demands and support, and efforts to reward imbalances. In this discussion she addressed burnout versus engagement, and the impact of mindfulness and skill-building. She raised a question for all of us: Is there enough trust within our work culture for employees to seek or accept support?

Dr. Gina Nikkel, President and CEO of Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care pointed out that we need to be comfortable and safe to have a conversation about what is mental wellness and what our mental health challenges are. She queried attendees on how we share what we know, and what questions do we ask within our communities?

Dr. Nancy Spangler

Dr. Nancy Spangler

Course Director, Jennifer Dimoff, Assistant Professor of I/O Psychology at Portland State University, pointed out that organizations recognize how employees are struggling and how often mental health challenges have been stigmatized. She shared existing tools that can lead us through this, discussing her research, development and evaluation of Mental Health Awareness Training for Managers (MHAT).

Along with Dr. Dimoff, I kicked off the session on Suicide Prevention in Construction, following up on a recent conference in Portland led by a local alliance. We shared the risk factors that increase the risk of suicide in construction, while emphasizing that the risk exists in most other industries, and the importance of suicide prevention. We referenced the document A Construction Industry Blueprint: Suicide Prevention in the Workplace. Deborah Zwetchkenbaum, Assistant Directory of the Crisis Line Program for Lines for Life helped us understand the role and power of crisis line programs, sharing her expertise, experience and resources.

DSC_5288-1Dr. Moreland-Capuia, Executive Director of the Avel Gordly Center for Healing and OHSU Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, helped us understand what it means to be trauma-informed in our approaches. She reinforced what many of us already know – that we need to create work cultures that consider others, and how important it is to recognize the vocabulary around mental wellness and health.  A quote by Dr. Moreland-Capuia that stayed with me was, “If everyone could be trauma informed, the world would be a better place.”

After the final panel and response to questions from the audience, there was no doubt in our minds about the importance in finding and using tools, resources and ideas to help our organizations better address the challenges we all face related to our mental health. We thank all of our speakers, organizers and attendees for joining us for our Fall Symposium. Access handouts and recordings.

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