Distraction, stairs and a fall

ladder fall picIt’s one thing to know that slips, trips and falls are of the most common causes of on-the-job injuries. It’s another thing, however, to always practice those things that are most likely to prevent a slip, trip or fall.

Over the years, I’ve learned to use hand rails. I’ve even learned to slow down on stairs and other walking surfaces. But I haven’t yet perfected the practice of eliminating distractions that can lead to a spill, as evidenced by my tumble down the work stairs the other day. Lucky for me, I ended up with only a skinned knee and leftover lunch flung through our stairwell. Unfortunately, in my attempt to not spill my open container of lunch leftovers I actually created the distraction that caused me to miss a step and thus tumble over many more.

I am happy that I don’t have a video to share with you. But it is a good reminder for all of us, all of the time – it just takes a second or less to lose our footing no matter what we are doing: Going down the stairs, walking on uneven concrete, or working on the side of a building, a ladder or scaffold.

  • Slips, trips and falls make up a majority of general industry accidents.
  • These events cause some of the most frequently-reported injuries making up almost 25% of all reported claims and with over 17% of all disabling occupational injuries resulting from falls.
  • Most (like mine) could have been prevented.

So here’s another reminder to tuck away in your tool box of lessons learned. And maybe to help it stick in your brain, just imagine me tumbling head over heels – alone in a stairwell – with remnants of a taco salad decorating the walls and carpet.

OccHealthSci: Fall Protection in Construction
OccHealthSci: Falls in Manufacturing and General Industry


Multiple agencies meet to discuss pesticide issues

Scenes from the 2016 Pesticide Symposium

Scenes from the 2016 OR OSHA Pesticide Symposium

Pesticides are a commonly used tool for the control of a variety of pests, including weeds, bacteria, insects, rodents and molds, and represent a potential health risk to those who use them. Oregon OSHA is actively involved in ensuring that safe work practices with pesticides are followed, and provides a variety of educational and consultation services in this regard. Last week, Oregon OSHA sponsored the 2016 Oregon Pesticide Symposium, which was held March 15-16 at the Chemeketa Community College’s Eola Viticulture Center in Salem. More than 20 educational and public agencies participated in this year’s symposium.

One issue discussed is one in which OSHA’s pesticide coordinator Garnet Cooke has been working tirelessly to resolve. Her talk, titled Decoding Respirator Language On Pesticide Labels, pointed out serious inconsistencies in label language that has created confusion to those trying to follow the law. Garnet has created a clarifying document for respirator use, which will soon be posted on the Oregon OSHA website, and is working with federal agencies to resolve respirator labeling issues.

Another highlight of this year’s symposium was a panel discussion of pesticide use on cannabis and Oregon’s ongoing efforts to implement new regulations governing the cannabis industry. Who are the regulatory players and how are they implementing law? What pesticides are approved for use and how does that list compare to what we’re finding on cannabis products? What outreach services do growers need? How do we ensure the safety of on-site inspectors, who may be exposed to a variety of electrical, chemical and physical hazards? And, what are the legal hurdles to overcome regarding federal versus state law, and how do state employees navigate this maze? These questions and more will all take time to answer as the cannabis industry and its regulation evolves.

These are only a sampling of highlights from this year’s symposium, which brought together a wide diversity of groups concerned with pesticide use in Oregon. Kudos to Garnet Cook and Oregon OSHA for spearheading this annual event.

AWWA is all about water

Dr. Fred Berman at the 2016 AWWA meeting

Dr. Fred Berman at the 2016 AWWA meeting

It is easy to take for granted the access to clean and safe water that we all enjoy. But without the experts who design, construct, operate and manage the utilities that provide our water, this luxury would not exist. This week, I had the privilege of addressing our regional water professionals at the 32nd annual American Water Works Association (AWWA) Pacific Northwest Section Cascade to Coast Short School, held March 13-16 at the Valley River Inn in Eugene, OR. The subject of my talk was “Blue-Green Algae? Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em”.

In this presentation, I discussed the subject of cyanobacteria (actual bacteria, not algae!), some of which produce the harmful ‘algal’ blooms that occur annually in fresh waters in Oregon. The topics covered included a discussion of the variety of organisms involved, their ecology, the toxins they produce and mechanisms of toxicity, and the regulatory guidelines that the Oregon Health Authority uses when public health interventions are warranted.

So, why can’t we live without cyanobacteria? Well, these are among the oldest living organisms on the planet, some 3.5 billion years old. They are largely responsible for the production and maintenance of the Earth’s oxygen atmosphere. And, counter to the popular belief that dinosaurs made our oil, cyanobacteria actually made most of the oil we use.

Why can’t we live with ‘em? Well, toxic water can make you very sick. Several dogs were actually killed by drinking algal-infested waters in southern Oregon in the last few years. And, since algal blooms seem to be increasing in frequency, it is important that our water managers are educated and vigilant on the subject of cyanobacteria and the toxins they can produce.

Click here to learn more about the Pacific Northwest Section of AWWA

Retooling our future

imageA favorite activity for those of us active in outreach at Occupational Health Sciences is catching up with our stakeholders at events.

This spring has been active – and certainly we have heard a recurring theme. There continue to be great career opportunities for those moving into the trades! And as those new to the trades take on new jobs – it continues to be important for us to help discover effective ways to deliver critical safety and health messages. What we know is how easily it is to get hurt at work when you are new and just learning the tools of any new trade or job.

Through our engagement with the Northwest Youth Expo and the Women in Trades Career Fair we are pleased to meet career seekers, and so many inspirational mentors for those new to the world of work. Top on my list was my conversation with Cory this week in Eugene at the Cascade Occupational Safety and Health Conference. She was introduced to a trade almost a dozen years ago while visiting the Women in Trades Career Fair, and now works in metal fabrication at Mohawk Metal, teaches welding, and is a safety champion. Kudos to Cory and all of our workplace mentors!

We appreciate our partners in the trades and look forward to more opportunities to work collaboratively to create safe workplaces.

Oregon Young Employee Safety Coalition
OccHealthSci resource library


New OR-FACE hazard alert

Hazard Alert

Hazard Alert

OR-FACE published a new hazard alert, “Follow manufacturer’s instructions.”  The document summarizes three Oregon construction fatal stories.  Common to the three cases was failure to follow manufacturer’s instructions:

Case 1:  A pile was held in a vertical position with the bottom of the pile resting on the ground. The clamp holding the top of the pile unexpectedly released. The pile was not rigged to the clamp housing or attached to the whipline.  It fell on the crane cab killing the operator.  The crew was not aware of the manufacturer instructions warning of clamp failure if the hydraulic clamp cylinder was not bled of entrained air.  Pile lifting instructions in the manual required a shackle and short line attached to the hole in the pile clamp housing with the shackle fastened into the lifting hole in the pile.

Case 2: The manufacturer safety instructions warned that coupler and components should not be modified. The closed lifting eye had been removed and replaced with a latched hook. A hook attached to the track-hoe failed, causing the taut rigging to snap loose, fly into the trench shield, and hit the pipelayer on the back of his hard hat.

Case 3:  The critical elements of standard practice provided in the BCSI-B1 Summary Sheet Guide to Handling, Installing, Restraining and Bracing of Trusses prior to and during truss installation were not followed. The foreman sustained a fatal head injury when he was struck on the head by a falling truss.

For other hazard alerts, investigation reports, and toolbox talk guides go to the OR-FACE website.

Plan your summer activity yet?

Come attend our Occupational Health Psychology (OHP) Summer Institute!

The Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences & the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center will host the 2016 Summer Institute: OHP Innovation and Creative Strategies Leading to Total Worker Health, July 12-14, 2016.

Experts from academia and industry will discuss cutting-edge research in Occupational Health, share real-world experiences, and brainstorm active strategies to bring Total Worker Health into the workplace.  Our exciting line-up of international and local speakers include Arnold Bakker, Glorian Sorenson, Eva Demerouti, Jim McDonald, Michael Leiter, Jack Dennerlein, and several more.

 Bakker,-web     Demerouti-web Sorenson,-web




: July 12-14, 2016
Where: Portland State University Smith Memorial Student Union, Rooms 327-329
How do I get there: 1825 SW Broadway, Portland, Oregon 97201

OHP-picture OHP-Pic-1
 Space is limited so we encourage  you to be the early bird!
 Click here to register.

Research paper reveals effects of enzyme loss


Dr. Doris Kretzschmar

Dr. Doris Kretzschmar

Glial expression of Swiss-cheese (SWS), the Drosophila orthologue of Neuropathy Target Esterase, is required for neuronal ensheathment and function, by Dutta S, Rieche F, Eckl N, Duch C, and Kretzschmar D.

That’s the title of a paper, recently published, that describes work originating from the laboratory of Doris Kretzschmar. In this work, Dr. Kretzschmar and postdoctoral fellow Sudeshna Dutta created a genetic mutation in a fruit fly enzyme that is analogous to neuropathy target esterase (NTE), an enzyme posessed by humans.

For years it has been known that certain chemicals, called organophosphates (OPs), inhibit the function of NTE, and that NTE inhibition might be the link to a disease of motor nerves caused by OPs. OPs are used as insecticides and have a variety of other uses in industry. During alcohol prohibition, an OP contaminant in a bootleg product known as Ginger Jake caused toxic injuries marked by a peculiar gait called “Jake Leg” – this was the first clue that NTE might be important to nerve development and function.

Now, with the mutant fruit flies, we can more closely study the molecular mechanisms by which changes in this protein (called SWS, or Swiss Cheese, in flies) causes neuronal damage and movement defects. Mutations in humans cause ataxia (the loss of full control of bodily movements), spastic paraplegia (stiffness and contraction in the lower limbs), and paralysis, as well as other symptoms like blindness and mental retardation. With a better understanding of SWS (and NTE), we may someday be able to provide treatment to those with mutations of NTE or injuries from exposure to OP chemicals.

Here are some movies that show the effect of deleting the SWS gene in flies: Dutta et al movie wild type vs Dutta et al movie knockdown. It makes their movement uncoordinated and they have problems walking, whereas the wild type (WT) walks straight up their containment vials.

Study serves veterans and service members

Soliders at PHA 2Dr. Leslie Hammer, new faculty member to Occupational Health Sciences, brings her research project, SERVe – the Study for Employment Retention of Veterans – a 5-year study funded by the Department of Defense, to the Institute. SERVe aims to improve the health and well-being of veterans and their families, and to increase retention of veterans in the workplace by training supervisors to better support their employed service members. Over the last three years the SERVe team has been going full steam ahead as we have designed, refined, recruited, and collected data in what has been on a truly ground-breaking project.

Oregon is notable for being one of the only states in the union to not have an active duty base, instead relying heavily on National Guard and Reserve components. According to the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, over 9,800 Oregon Army National Guard soldiers have been deployed overseas between 2003 and 2013*, often for a year or more. These citizen soldiers leave jobs, family and/or school behind, to fill a vital role for our country. The transition home can often be a difficult one.

Seeing a need, Dr. Hammer has adapted her Family Supportive Supervisor Behavior (FSSB) training to focus on Veteran Support in the civilian workplace. Currently the SERVe team has recruited 42 organizations in Oregon – an unprecedented number in intervention research – to pilot the training. Data are being collected from over 500 veterans in these organizations before and after the training in a randomized control trial. This rigorous evaluation goes far beyond the usual “I really liked the training/found it useful” evaluation.  The training is expected to have effects on the health and well-being of the participating Veterans, Service Members, and their families.

Data collection will be completed in summer 2016 and initial results will be available shortly thereafter. For more information, check out the SERVe website  or contact us at serve@pdx.edu.

Adding to the innovative research design, Dr. Cynthia Mohr and her team at Portland State University are conducting a Daily Family Study with a subgroup of veterans and their partners, where each member of the couple completes a short survey each day for about a month at two different points in time. This provides detailed information about the daily functioning of these families that just can’t be captured on a discrete survey, and also allows for additional evaluation of the training.

*Source: http://www.oregon.gov/odva/INFO/Pages/stats.aspx

Submitted by Krista Brockwood, Senior Research Associate

Arsenic and cadmium air pollution found in SE and North PDX

Potentially unsafe levels of arsenic and cadmium have been detected in the air of Southeast Portland. The primary source was been localized to a glass production facility that has operated there for ~40 years. They have since terminated use of these metals in their process, so there is no current risk of continued airborne exposure from this source. A similar finding has been localized to a glass production facility in North Portland, who has also suspended use of cadmium (they don’t use arsenic).

Dr. Fred Berman addresses  questions about Arsenic and Cadmium air pollution.

Dr. Fred Berman addresses questions about Arsenic and Cadmium air pollution.

At the concentrations measured, the primary health concern is for increased risk of skin, lung and bladder cancer, and lung cancer and kidney damage, for arsenic and cadmium, respectively. This concern is heightened, because several schools and residences are located in the Southeast Portland location, and the actual magnitude and duration of exposure to these metals is still being determined. DEQ is in the process of assessing the geographical extent of contamination, which will help identify areas of potential exposure and risk.

I attended a community open house, held February 9th, organized by Oregon Public Health, Oregon DEQ, and Multnomah County, to address public concerns about the situation as it is currently understood. Many thoughtful and intelligent questions and comments were brought forth by community members, and although I felt good about my ability to address the facts, there was little I felt I could do to address the fear expressed by many. Hopefully, as the situation becomes more clearly defined, we will better understand the actual health risk that exists. Stay tuned….this issue will be ongoing for some time.

For more information, visit the Oregon Health Authority and DEQ webpages.

Of grants and fruitflies

The Krezschmar Lab including Dr. Cassar (front right).

The Krezschmar Lab team including Dr. Cassar (front right).

We congratulate Occupational Health Science’s Postdoctoral Fellow Marlene Cassar, Ph.D.,  upon her being awarded a $30,000 grant from the Collins Medical Trust. OHSU submitted a total of 15 grants for this round, and Dr. Cassar’s research project was one of four selected for funding.

Dr. Cassar supports the Kretzschmar Lab, and her funded project uses the fruitfly Drosophila to study how mutations in the Tau protein, which is a key factor in several dementias including Alzheimer’s disease, affect the function of this protein. Various fly lines will be created that express disease-associated forms of human Tau which will then be used to study how they interfere with the function and survival of the aging brain, as a means to understand the underlying pathology that leads to diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.

The Kretzschmar Lab uses Drosophila to study basic mechanisms of neurodegeneration. Currently, the research team is focusing on two projects. One is the characterization of the swiss cheese mutant, which shows progressive degeneration of the adult nervous system. The other project focuses on the function of Amyloid Precursor Proteins, which are key factors in Alzheimer’s Disease.

We appreciate the important work and diversity of our basic science researchers! Learn more about Occupational Health Sciences research directions.

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