Solutions for a better future for occupational health

Researchers, practitioners, students, and members of the occupational health and safety field got together in Seattle last week at the Future of Occupational Health Symposium, hosted by the University of Washington and organized by the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS).

The Symposium was spurred by the changing occupational health landscape, which in a global economy, has moved toward a fragmented workforce consisting of more temporary, contract, immigrant, and vulnerable workers. Adding to the risk factors are dwindling unionization, which has long been a symbol of worker empowerment, global climate change, which exposes workers to greater health and safety risks, and blurring boundaries between work and non-work related effects on worker well-being.

Intended to kick-start a continued effort, the aim of this gathering, as introduced by Dr. Mike Yost (UW DEOHS), was to explore current challenges in the field of occupational health with regard to the changing workforce, suggest alternative models, and recommend actionable goals for improvement.

Mike Yost

Dr. Linda Rae Murray’s (Cook County Dept. of Public Health, Illinois) impassioned keynote urged everyone in Occupational Health to understand the history of this field and to be mindful of its fundamental purpose and ideology: human rights, justice, and protecting the power of the worker.

Through a series of classic paintings, Dr. John Volkens (Colorado State University) creatively told the story of Occupational Health in the 21st century in regard to hazardous occupational exposure. Referring to limited resources in this area, he discussed the need to redirect our study focus to “what we need (rather than) what we want”.

Switching gears toward contemporary communication strategies in Occupational Health, Scott Macklin (UW Communications Leadership) demonstrated the importance of utilizing multimedia effectively. High quality videos, engaging web experiences, and immersive storytelling, i.e., “making stories with (occupational) communities instead of about them” are elements of communication we cannot ignore today.

At dinner, Dr. Gerald Markowitz (CUNY, New York) revisited the history of Occupational Health as it relates to changing trends in today’s context and talked about the transition from the “struggle between safety and profits” to ensuring a safe and healthy worker.

Among many key points, Dr. David Michaels (OSHA) considered the changing role of OSHA since its inception in 1971 and highlighted the organization’s challenges at a time of when “workers are (becoming) invisible”. Dr. Michaels emphasized safer environments, meaningful work, equitable worker compensation, partnership with community groups, and importantly, worker rights as crucial considerations for positive change. He encouraged states to work toward establishing organizational “duty of care”, a legal step that would enforce accountability and burden of responsibility in ensuring worker health and safety.

David Michaels

David Michaels

It wasn’t long before consistent themes for improvement emerged in this highly interactive Symposium marked by moderated group discussions and heavy audience participation.

Active Audience Participation

Active Audience Participation

In addition to greater interdisciplinary collaboration, it was proposed that we need to graduate from an “occupational health” to a “worker health” perspective as a more holistic approach to achieving worker well-being. Many saw value in mobilizing community and advocacy groups to help educate and empower workers at a grass-roots level. Lastly, the possibility of integrating worker compensation and well-being with the recently upheld Affordable care Act was explored, as was “duty of care”.

Group Discussion Mediators

In his closing comments, Dr. Howard Frumkin (UW School of Public Health) summarized themes at the Symposium as he made the case for the underserved worker in the United States. In redefining the field and future of Occupational Health, Dr. Frumkin advised stakeholders to work toward goals that are relevant in the larger community, while keeping in mind that Occupational Health is really a “global health phenomenon”.

Occupational safety and health broadens purview

Three meetings in June (2015) reveal that occupational safety and health has broadened it’s purview. Diseases or disease risk factors that are substantially affected by our lifestyle, and increasingly recognized as affected by our by occupation, are now on everybody’s mind; 5 years ago they were often not part of the conversation.

At the 31st International Congress on Occupational Health (ICOH) in Seoul Korea (June 1-5) we learned that by 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts dramatic changes in the top 4 diseases across the globe, as shown in the picture (modified to place the speaker next to the screen). Diseases related to lifestyle and occupation will be 3 of the top 4 diseases in 2020 whereas in 1990 lower respiratory infection, diarrhea and perinatal diseases dominated.

Dr. Casey Chosewood (below) of NIOSH demonstrated how one major risk factor for chronic diseases, obesity, is associated with occupational groups in his talks at ICOH. The inescapable conclusion is that certain occupations are obesogenic, they lead to obesity.

asey Chosewood  at ICOHCasey repeated this slide at the June 23 NIOSH National Expert Colloquium meeting in Washington, DC (below) where over 20 labor leaders and the Directors of the NIOSH Centers of Excellence and some Affiliates in Total Worker Health (TWH) met, forcefully making the point that work organization changes are needed to prevent obesity in our workforce/our population; NIOSH posted information on the 2014 meeting.

We would add that programs that help people grapple with lifestyle issues at work and away from work are also sought after by workers in our studies. They know they have to take a role in solving their problems, as changes in work structure aren’t enough to reverse their problems – these important changes will have a greater benefit for new or young workers.

NIOSH Natl Expert Colloquium 2015

The third meeting was held by the University of Washington in Seattle (June 23-24) to address the future of occupational health, and it recognized that a broader view of worker health must be part of the education and the practice of occupational safety and health.

Day 2 was keynoted by Dr. David Michaels, Administrator of federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). He encouraged academics and practitioners to work more closely with state workers’ compensation organizations, including insurance companies. A specific suggestion was to improve safety and health in small businesses through the large businesses they supply – by addressing the supply chain at the top, an area of success for federal OSHA.

David Michaels at Seattle meeting

Importantly, speakers at each meeting re-affirmed safety as the foundation of occupational health. Our next blog will describe the University of Washington meeting in more detail as many new and in some cases ‘intentionally disruptive’ ideas were floated.

Welcome 2015 Summer Interns!

internsOur offices and labs are humming with new energy. Our summer research interns have arrived!

We welcome and congratulate the following interns:

  • Rachael Barton – Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA – Shea Lab
  • Colin Boehnlein  – University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA –Rohlman Lab
  • Jared Cayton – Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR – Lim Lab
  • John Donlan – Northeastern University, Boston, MA – Kretzschmar Lab
  • Aaron Greenfield – University of Oregon, Eugene, OR – Truxillo Lab
  • Kasey Ha – University of California San Diego, San Diego, CA – Olson Lab
  • Afsara Haque – University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA – Olson Lab
  • Christiana Huss – Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR – Turker Lab
  • Allison Schue – Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR – Anger Lab
  • Kaycee Smith  – Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX – Wipfli Lab
  • Julia Yu – Emory University, Atlanta, GA – McCullough Lab

Summer Student Research Awards are three-month paid summer internships designed to introduce undergraduate students to biomedical and occupational health research. Selected students are required to be undergraduate students from Oregon, or attend Oregon institutions. Join us later in August for our research poster celebration. Learn more about out research labs.

VA changes policy on Agent Orange-exposed AF Reserve veterans.

During the Vietnam war, approximately 20 million gallons of herbicides, including about 10.5 million gallons of dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange, were sprayed in South Vietnam to deprive the Viet Cong of food as well as jungle cover. The 30-40 Fairchild C-123 aircraft used in this operation were subsequently returned to the United States and reassigned, without proper decontamination, to Air Force Reserve units for use in transport and aeromedical operations. Between 1972 and 1981, as many as 2,100 reservists trained and worked on both the contaminated as well as other uncontaminated C-123s.

In May 2011, I was contacted by retired Air Force Reserve Major Wes Carter, who for ten years flew C-123s out of Westover AF base, Massachusetts. He was concerned about what seemed to be an unusually high rate of cancers and other illnesses among his crewmates, and wanted to know about the significance of their exposure to dioxin residues contained within contaminated C-123s. Wes presented to me a variety of documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests, including laboratory results from tests performed on a few of the aircraft in 1979, 1994 and 2009. These sparse data suggested to me that, even 9, 24 and 39 years after last use in Vietnam, the C-123s were still heavily contaminated with herbicide residues and dioxins. I reported my opinion to the secretaries of the Air Force and Veterans Affairs (VA) that the reservists, more likely than not, were significantly and excessively exposed to dioxins during their service. Other scientists independently provided similar opinions based on the data.

So began a four-year struggle by Maj. Carter to obtain coverage for those he served with under the Agent Orange Exposure Act of 1992. The VA position was that, since reservists had not set “boots on the ground” in Vietnam, they were not eligible for coverage. The VA also stated that “even though residual Agent Orange may be detected in C-123 aircraft by laboratory techniques years after Agent Orange use, any residual [dioxin] in the aircraft would have solidified and be unable to enter the human body in any significant amount” (emphasis added). Similarly, the Air Force position was that any potential Agent Orange exposures on C-123s after Vietnam were “unlikely to have caused harm.”

The rather interesting interpretation by the VA of scientific principles related to chemical behavior in the environment, stated above, compelled several scientists, including myself, to publish a paper that analyzed the sparse data to estimate likely dioxin exposures using established scientific principles of chemistry. Publication of this paper compelled the VA in 2014 to contract with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to study the issue. In the end, the IOMs conclusions agreed with our determinations.

This week, the VA, prodded by politicians, including Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), announced a change in policy and will now extend Agent Orange exposure coverage to the AF Reserve veterans. Sometimes it takes awhile, but the scientific truth often prevails. And thanks to you, Major Carter, for your hard work on behalf of those who served our country.

Pendleton hosts the Blue Mountain health and safety conference

The Pendleton, Oregon Convention Center was the site of the annual Blue Mountain Occupational Safety & Health Conference, held June 1 & 2, 2015. More than 200 participants from diverse industries, including agriculture, corrections, food processing, wood products, energy and more, registered for this conference.

A variety of interesting and helpful sessions were available to attendees, who came away with an increased knowledge and enthusiasm for advancing safety and health in the workplace. Keith Bardney, Senior Director for Safety, ConAgra Foods, Naperville, Illinois, presented the keynote address on how to take a workplace culture from a dependent stage to an independent stage and finally to an interdependent stage. Keith showed us how he engages employees to take ownership in the safety process by forming self-directed teams, assisting with goal setting, identifying areas of risk, and coming up with safety solutions in a team environment.

We highly recommend that you put this conference on your calendar for next year. Pendleton and the beautiful Blue Mountains of Oregon is a wonderful site for engaging your colleagues in the advancement of safety and health in your workplace.

This event was a joint effort of the Oregon SHARP Alliance, Oregon OSHA, and employers/employees from Northeast Oregon.

Total Worker Health at ICOH in Seoul

The International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), the oldest society supporting Occupational Safety and Health in the world (formed 1906) met for the 31st time (triennial meetings) in Seoul Korea, sponsored locally by KOSHA, the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency. ICOH has members in over 90 countries, most represented by the 1800 participants in the June, 2015 meeting. Below is a picture from the opening ceremony from last week (May 31-June 5).

A powerful series of presentations featured policy descriptions and strategic plans from 10 lead organizations, including the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization and US OSHA.  Shown speaking below is Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health (US OSHA), the leader of OSHA.

A noteworthy change since the last ICOH meeting is the appearance of presentations of the integration of safety and health with well-being.  NIOSH’s Dr. Casey Chosewood presented a semi-plenary on Total Worker Health, the NIOSH model for the US that is widely recognized beyond the US shores.  Total Worker Health (TWH) was trademarked by NIOSH in 2011 to formalize their re-definition of Occupational Safety and Health (following their Steps to a Healthier Workforce  initiative in 2003 and WorkLife program in 2007).

The mini-symposium on ” Integrated Approaches to Workforce Safety, Health and Well-being Across the Globe” was led by Dr. Kent Anger of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center.  The question addressed was ‘are workplace safety, health and well-being programs integrated,’ as opposed to separate programs for safety and health and for well-being.  Shown below is Evelyn Kortum at the mini-symposium presenting the World Health Organization’s ‘Healthy Workplace Model‘ developed in 2009.  It is an integrated public health approach that is broader than TWH, by including the community as well as the workplace; it has a strong focus on the informal workforce which is much larger in developing countries than in the US.  Other speakers in the mini-symposium were Kent and Drs. Casey Chosewood, Roberto Lucchini (Mt. Sinai), Laura Punnett (CPH-NEW; University of Massachusetts/Lowell), and Kang-Sook Lee (The Catholic University of Korea).

Shown below is Dr. Max Lum of NIOSH posing the question ‘What is YouTube?’  His point is that people should view YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia as search engines.  People increasingly are using these sites to search for topics.  Very recently for the first time, Wikipedia, not Google, emerged as the most frequent referring ISP to the NIOSH website.  So, if you want your site to be identified by search engines when people are searching for information about your organization, Google is not the only game in town and in fact may not play in many searches.

Moving ahead to protect temporary workers

Thanks to everyone who joined us at last week’s symposium – sharing both challenges and best practices to protect our temporary workforce. We were particularly pleased to have such meaningful discussions between a mix of professions; the staffing industry, safety and health professionals, regulators, insurers and the academic community.

Here at the institute we select symposia topics that are emerging – often issues that don’t have simple fixes or interventions. We are hopeful that with the lead of several of last week’s symposium attendees, we can work to move ahead toward consistent, thoughtful solutions to enhance a race to the top for safety and health protections for this workforce.

We have posted the recorded webinars and handouts from last week’s event on our symposium webpage. Also posted are Tips and Ideas shared by attendees, along with other resources towards the bottom of the webpage. Please share the link and keep us posted on what you are doing to move the needle in a positive direction.

It was clear to those of us attending the American Industrial Hygiene Continuing Education Conference this week in Salt Lake City, that this topic is a priority at a national level.  Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA and David Weil, Administrator of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division gave a compelling presentation on Health and Safety Implications of the Fissured Workplace: A Conversation, which was so cleverly depicted by graphic artist Alece Birnbach (@visualrecorder).

Graphic representation by Alece Birnbach of Graphic Recording Studio at AHce2015.

Oregon participates in the National Safety Stand-Down to prevent falls in construction

SafeBuild Alliance Kick-off event: Shawn Carey and Ilene Farrell of Quality Plus Services reviewing the Stand-Down Poster and OR-FACE Toolbox Guides

Dustin Schneider, Capital Safety, demonstrating fall protection equipment

May 9 Stand-Down event panel discussion

The stand down is part of OSHA’s ongoing national Fall Prevention Campaign that began in 2012. This year the Stand-Down coincided with National Construction Industry Safety Week. OR-FACE partnered with the Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center, SafeBuild Alliance, AGC Oregon Columbia Chapter, Oregon Home Builders Association, and Oregon OSHA to encourage employers and workers to participate in the Stand-Down.

On May 1, 180 individuals attended the SafeBuild Alliance Construction Industry Safety Week kick-off event with Mike Parnell as the featured speaker. On display at the event were posters of company activities planned for safety week and proclamations by Oregon Governor Kate Brown and several city mayors encouraging residents to observe and participate in the May 3-9 Construction Safety Week.

On May 8, the partners organized an event facilitated by Harvey McGill that included speakers, panel discussion and a free course on “Fall Hazard Awareness for the Construction Industry.” There were 38 attendees at the event that included safety professionals and construction workers. OSHA Region X Area Director, Cecil Tipton was on hand to open the event. After presentations, a panel comprised of Region X Area Director, Illa Gilbert-Jones (OR-FACE), Travis Stone (AGC Oregon), Dustin Schneider (Capital Safety), Doug Pettyjohn (Oregon HBA), and Aimee Standring (SafeBuild Alliance) answered participant questions. Dustin Schneider demonstrated fall protection equipment at both events. The event culminated with Harvey and Craig Hamelund (OR-OSHA) teaching “OSHA 7405: Fall Hazard Awareness for the Construction Industry to prevent falls in commercial and residential construction.

Tigard-Tualatin students learn about safety

The Community Experience for Career Education also known as (CE)2 led by Learning Managers Sue McGee and Tony Hunt is an alternative education program in the Tigard-Tualatin School District.  The program is designed to give students an opportunity to develop job skills through practical experience while earning core credits toward a high school diploma. The students participate in internships with local businesses and give back to the community by volunteering for community projects.

Since 2010 the ASSE Columbia-Willamette Chapter has sponsored and taught the OSHA 10-hour General Industry class to high school seniors. According to the primary instructor, Luke Betts (ASSE CWC Past President), 222 students have been trained since then.  The students from the first class are now 23 years-old, in the workforce and armed with the safety knowledge taught in class.  In addition to Luke, other ASSE members that have taught the course are Kevin Wheatcroft and Aubrey Sakaguchi.  This year on April 2, OR-FACE was invited to teach the machine guarding portion of the class.  Lessons learned from related OR-FACE investigations were included and proved to be impactful.

Submitted by Illa Gilbert-Jones, OR-FACE Program Manager

Women in trades and construction

O[yes] exhibitors and workshop leaders: Dede, Leigh, Kevin, Megan and Paula.

Oregon Tradeswomen recently completed yet another successful Women in Trades Career Fair. We applaud this organization and all of the sponsors and supporters of this popular event. This largest non-traditional career fair of its kind has been provided since 1993 and excels in providing hands-on-activities designed to introduce women and girls to the possibility of a future career in the trades. The Oregon Young Employee Safety Coalition(O[yes]), along with its partner organizations including our Institute, SAIF and Oregon OSHA, have enjoyed supporting this event as an exhibitor and workshop provider.

Congratulations to Oregon Tradeswomen, enriching the lives of girls and women for over twenty years. We are proud to be part of this fair.

High school students learn about iron working.


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