4th Annual Occupational Health Psychology Summer Institute

Peggys CoveThe 3‐day institute hosted this year by Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia featured renowned researchers and practitioners in occupational health psychology, total worker health, and safety research and practice. This fourth annual event was attended by safety and health practitioners, occupational health nurses, human resources/benefits/ training managers, union representatives, and workers’ compensation consultants. Topic included:

  • Finding Solutions to Workplace Burnout presented by Dr. Christina Maslach
  • Interventions to Reduce Work-Life Stress and Improve Health of Workers presented by Dr. Leslie Hammer
  • Leadership, Safety, and Occupational Fatigue presented by Dr. Jane Mullen
  • The Social Context of Burnout and Engagement presented by Dr. Michael Leiter
  • Mental Health Awareness Training presented by Jennifer Dimoff
  • Creating a Climate for Health presented by Dr. Robert Sinclair
  • Understanding the Value of Recognition at Work presented by Dr. Kevin Kelloway
  • Fostering Work-Life Wellness through Resilience presented by Dr. Arla Day
  • Culture First presented by Paul Kells
  • Psychological Standards: What can we Learn from Safety’s Experience presented by Dr. Mark Flemming
leslie 2

Dr. Hammer presents in Halifax.

Starting in 2012, when first hosted by the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center (OHWC) and the Portland State University OHP program, we have been alternating coasts to provide local, regional, and international practitioners and academics the state of the art updates on OHP. Last year the OHWC introduced Total Worker Health to the mix and we plan to continue that focus next year in Portland when we host the 5th Annual OHP-SI July 12-14, 2016 with a current working theme of “OHP Innovative and Creative Strategies leading to TWH.”

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Submitted by Leslie Hammer, Ph.D.,  OHWC Associate Director, Project PI

OccHealthSci.org topic: Total Worker Health and Well-being

Institute postdoc researcher earns investigator award

ThosarSaurabh S. Thosar, Ph.D, a postdoctoral researcher at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences has been awarded the Early Clinical Investigator Award from the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon.

Adverse cardiovascular events such as heart attacks occur most commonly during the early morning hours in the general population. This is also the time when the diurnal rhythm in vascular reactivity is at its lowest point. The goal of this newly funded study is to determine the relative contributions of sleep, physical inactivity and internal circadian rhythms
in the attenuated vascular function during early morning hours.

Dr. Thosar is the principal investigator of this project and Dr. Steven A. Shea is his mentor. Colleagues who will be a part of this research include other institute researchers: Matthew Butler PhD, Michael Lasarev MS, Noal Clemons, Sally Roberts, Alec Berman, and sleep medicine physicians from OHSU (Chad Hagen MD) and the VA Portland Health Care System (Jonathan Emens MD). The work will be performed in a new facility recently built as part of the Oregon Clinical & Translational Research Center at OHSU.

Occupational Health Sciences Director awarded 2.5M grant

Shea_lab1014 copy

Laboratory Staff of Dr. Steven A. Shea (at far right) L-R: Sally Roberts, Christine Swanson, Saurabh Thosar, Noal Clemons, Matthew Butler

Steven A. Shea, Ph.D., Director, Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences and colleagues were awarded $2.5M from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the role of the internal body clock on cardiovascular risk.

Adverse cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and sudden cardiac death occur most commonly, on average, at about 9 AM in the general population, but most frequently at around 3 AM in people with obstructive sleep apnea. The goal of the newly funded study is to determine if the internal body clock affects cardiovascular function differently in people with sleep apnea compared to healthy people, perhaps explaining the different timing of adverse events in people with sleep apnea.

Dr. Shea is the principal investigator of this project and his colleagues on the award include other Institute researchers: Matthew Butler PhD, Saurabh Thosar PhD, Michael Lasarev MS, Noal Clemons, Sally Roberts, Alec Berman, and sleep medicine physicians from OHSU (Chad Hagen MD) and the VA Portland Health Care System (Jonathan Emens MD). The work will be performed in a new facility recently built as part of the Oregon Clinical & Translational Research Center at OHSU.

Let’s avoid getting stressed over heat

heatfireheatworkerOK – now that the extremely hot weather has (temporarily) passed, let’s not let our guard down about heat-related illness. Many workers do not have the option of getting out of the sun during the hottest time of the day, and it is important to remember that the best way to prevent heat-related illness is to keep workers cool and hydrated throughout the day.

There are many risk factors that can affect a worker’s heat tolerance. Risk factors include high air temperatures and humidity, direct sun exposure, indoor radiant heat sources such as ovens or other equipment, limited air movement, physical exertion, not drinking enough fluids (dehydration), personal protective equipment or clothing, certain medications, physical condition, lack of acclimatization, and advanced age.

So what to do? First, it may be wise to consult your healthcare provider if you think you have any risk factors that predispose you to heat illness. These may include the use of medications, chronic or ongoing disease conditions, advanced age (65+), or if you have a previous history of heat illness.

And even if you are perfectly healthy, always take care to remain hydrated. NIOSH recommends that for moderate activity in moderate conditions, each worker should drink 1 cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes. Workers should be reminded to drink water frequently before becoming thirsty in order to maintain good hydration.

While some workers may prefer the taste of sports drinks, often these types of drinks are not necessary for electrolyte replacement. Workers who eat regular meals and salt-containing snacks will usually be able to replace electrolytes lost during sweating. Energy drinks and other caffeinated drinks should be avoided. In addition to providing plenty of water in convenient locations close to the work site, employers can provide urine color charts near toilet facilities. These charts show the urine colors of a hydrated person compared to a dehydrated person. The darker the urine, the more likely you are dehydrated.

Above all….be prepared. The best preparation is to educate yourself about heat-related illness. A lot of information on heat illness can be found on our Occupational Health Sciences Web Resource site. Here you will find a variety of useful information on the causes of heat illness and prevention strategies. And finally, don’t forget that sun exposure is a major risk factor for skin cancer, so slather on plenty of sun screen several times daily when working outdoors. Here is some Oregon-specific information on heat stress and sun exposure, including en Español.

Can you hear me?


Sometimes I can’t communicate with other pedestrians and transit riders during my commute. And it’s not because of language. To be honest, I find myself talking to myself an awful lot. Now this isn’t a safety issue if I’m just trying to be social with someone while they are plugged into music. No, it’s when I am on our shared network of trails and sidewalks that I start to worry. If on my bike, I call out “passing on your left” to the walker or runner only to have them jump when I actually pass by.

Exercise is good. But do we create safety problems when we are fully plugged in to music while moving our bodies? Can you hear a car horn? What about the brakes of a car? Do you notice if someone is approaching you from behind? I’m not the only one thinking about this. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Distracted Pedestrians Campaign shares injury and fatality statistics related to distracted walking – much of it caused by being distracted by our electronic devices.

What do you do to keep yourself safe while working out and walking?

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.

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