January is National Radon Action Month

Map depicting radon levels in Oregon

Did you know that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking in the United States? Each year, lung cancer caused by radon exposure kills about 21,000 Americans. This colorless, odorless and tasteless gas, which comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water, can seep through your home’s foundation and into your breathing space.

Testing is the only way to know if your home has elevated levels of radon. Fortunately, testing is inexpensive and easy. You can buy a radon test kit at most hardware stores or hire someone to do the testing. You need to take action to reduce the radon level in your home if it is at or above 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air.

If your home has elevated radon levels, a radon-reduction system can be installed to remove radon from beneath your home and harmlessly discharge it outdoors. These systems have a vent pipe and exhaust fan. If you’re building a new home, you should ask your builder to use radon-resistant construction methods.

The Oregon Health Authority has excellent information on radon, including where to get test kits, risk level maps that show average radon levels at various locations in Oregon, and how to take action should levels be too high. The National Library of Medicine also has excellent information on radon.

January is National Radon Action Month – this would be a great time to take action to prevent your family’s exposure to radon.

Heading our Way: GOSH 2015

Every two years Portland hosts the Oregon Governor’s Occupational Safety and Health Conference. We have found GOSH to be the best value-packed opportunity to support professional development; mentor and welcome newer faces to Oregon, our profession and our work; and, rekindle long-term professional relationships.

GOSH will be held March 9-12, 2015 at the Oregon Convention Center. The program is impressive, the exhibit hall is filling out, and registration is now open. What can you do at GOSH?

  • Attend the welcome by Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Woods, followed by Jim D. Wiethorn’s keynote Forensics – It’s Elementary my Dear Watson.
  • Select from more than 160 sessions within 22 different interest tracks, including construction, healthcare, wellness, organizational development and culture, schools and many more.

    Exhibit Hall GOSH 2013

  • Join O[yes] to mentor high school students during the Student Day Program.
  • Enter or watch the Columbia Forklift Challenge.
  • Volunteer!
  • Sign up to be an exhibitor or GOSH sponsor,
  • Learn – meet new professional connections – take new ideas back to your organization. Oh, and have fun!

You will find Occupational Health Sciences and the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center in the exhibit hall, and with staff presenting technical sessions (#215 Behavior Change Tactics You Can Apply Today: Findings and tools from the COMPASS Total Worker Health Program for Home Care Workers: Ryan Olson, Sharon Thompson; #326 Effective Team-Based Approaches to Total Worker Health: Kerry Kuehl, Ryan Olson; #417 An Overview of the Safety and Health Improvement Program: Leslie Hammer; #419 Total Worker Health: Tips and Strategies for Safety and Health Professionals: Dede Montgomery; #459 Research and Resources on Traumatic Occupational Incidents: Illa Gilbert-Jones).

We hope to see you there!


Pursuing Total Worker Health at OHSU

The graphic on the OHSU internal web page addressing TWH.

Our friends and partners know that here at Occupational Health Sciences, and at the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center (OHWC), we have been talking about Total Worker HealthTM (TWH) for some time. In fact, the OHWC is one of four-funded Centers of Excellence in the U.S. to explore and research the concepts of TWH. This funding is provided by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Total Worker HealthTM, as defined by NIOSH, is “a strategy integrating occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being.” Our goal  at OHWC is to translate our research findings for use by organizations and companies.

Here at OHSU we are lucky to have many resources to support improved safety, health and well-being of all employees. But as we sometimes find in large organizations, it is sometimes difficult for employees to know about the wide range of available resources.

We are very pleased to introduce a new internal (O2) web page (OHSU employee access only) that introduces Total Worker Health and more comprehensively identifies the available resources that can be used to support a total picture of health – physical, emotional , mental, spiritual and financial – at work and outside of work. We thank OHSU Communication Staff for creating the new graphic and page.

What’s next? How can we take what we are learning through research and implement it to make us all healthier at OHSU and beyond? You tell us!

NIOSH Total Worker HealthTM
Oregon Healthy Workforce Center website
OccHealthSci topic page: Total Worker HealthTM and Wellness
See the Total Worker Health page on OHSU’s internal employee pages (employee access only)

Total Worker Health Coming to Oregon Department of Corrections

Winds of change are blowing to improve the health and safety of ODOC staff.  Last month with 70 MPH winds and rain blasting the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution Wellness Symposium in Pendleton, Oregon, Dr. Kerry Kuehl presented the occupational health and safety risks associated with corrections work.

Some of the important findings from the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center (OHWC) DOC funded study conducted from 2011-2014 include:

  • 1 out of 2 Correctional Officers (CO’s) have metabolic syndrome (combo of elevated BP and blood sugar, Central Obesity, Dyslipidemia, and Hypertriglyceridemia)
  • High stress related illness and absenteeism rates
  • Highest worker compensation claims of state workers
  • Nationally, corrections work associated with some of the highest PTSD and suicide related deaths

Leading the charge to change the course of these alarming stats are Oregon DOC Director Peters and Deputy Director Morrow.  Mr. Mitch Morrow is on a personal crusade to improve the health and safety of his DOC staff. Mr. Morrow – with 32 years with Oregon DOC, beginning as a correctional officer – knows too well the extreme demands of this work including the negative effects of hypervigilence (always being on guard with elevated cortisol, adrenaline, and high blood pressure). He says this work is taking a toll on his staff and it is time to address the premature mortality occurring 15 years earlier than U.S. adults.  Mr. Morrow opened by stating “we can no longer have a blind eye to these unacceptable health statistics” and is making health promotion and protection of his staff the number 1 priority in 2015.

Corrections Staff with Dr. Kuehl (far right).

Dr. Kuehl and his research team have now toured 7 of the 14 prisons in the state to better understand these occupational risks.  Working with all public safety sector workers, Dr. Kuehl sees corrections research being 20-30 years behind fire and police research, and believes it is essential to focus on this occupational group.

Correctional officers have a unique job of protecting the public from society’s most violent criminals, while at the same time being dedicated to the mission of rehabilitating these inmates for return and productivity to society. DOC staff lay their life on the line every day and bear the brunt of this stress-related occupation.

With a national effort underway from the National Institute of Justice initiated by the NIOSH Total Worker Health Centers, Dr. Kuehl is encouraged corrections work is now a high priority and will receive the necessary resources to study effective interventions on this high risk occupation.

Submitted by Kerry S Kuehl, MD DrPH MS
Professor of Medicine
Chief Division of Health Promotion & Sports Medicine
Director Human Performance Lab
Oregon Health & Science University

OHWC Correctional Officers Project
OccHealthSci Topic Page: Corrections


Happy New Year!

On the Road Again for the Holidays?

Part of that work life balance we all strive to achieve means meeting family and friends, and that often requires time traveling. Sitting at times other than work isn’t good for you either. Here are some tips from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) for staying active when traveling.

Aerobics at the Airport
More and more airports are also getting in on the fitness trend. Some have gone beyond your own making laps around the terminal. For example, The Phoenix Airport offers a 2-mile walking path with views of mountain peaks and Boston’s Logan Airport has a walking path with health checkpoints where you can check your height, weight, blood pressure, and BMI. Download Gate Guru to identify what your airport offers.

Even when you are confined at the gate or on a train, you can exercise. The AICR has a video at http://vimeo.com/34580370, and the Centers for Disease Control also shows and describes a workout for a small spaces.

Rest Stops Where You Can Workout
Apps like USA Rest Stops has information about rest stops, but many state transportation departments highlight the locations and features of each rest area. Look for rest stops with a pet-friendly or picnic table icon – these are more likely to have green areas where you can take a brisk 5- or 10-minute walk before getting back in your car. See the link to rest stops in  Oregon, Washington and California.

Submitted by Diane Elliott, MD, (OHWC Internal Steering Committee Chair)

Aging and Longer Working Careers

Sabine Sonnentag, U of Mannheim, Germany; Donald Truxillo, Portland State University (blog author), Franco Fraccaroli, U. of Trento (conference organizer)

An international conference on occupational safety and health was held earlier this month at the University of Trento, Italy. The University of Trento is a leading research institution in Italy in the areas of psychology and neuroscience, and I’m pleased to be a member of the doctoral training committee there.  Sabine Sonnentag (U. of Mannheim, Germany) and I were asked to give keynote talks at the conference. She spoke about recovery from work, and I focused on one of my passions, ways to address age issues in the workplace.

Because of the economic crisis, Italian workers are facing a number of serious challenges, including job insecurity, delayed retirements even for the most physically demanding jobs, and unemployment rates as high as 50% for people under 25.

A consistent theme at this conference was the challenge facing Italy and other countries where people are suddenly being asked to work much longer than they had planned without adequate support or preparation.  One salient group: People (mostly women) working into their sixties, caring for preschool kids on their own. A typical situation might involve one of these older teachers caring for a group of as many as 25 young kids – singlehandedly. This includes not only the psychological strain of such work, but physical as well, including having to lift and carry their charges throughout the day.

The bureaucratic system does little to accommodate the needs of these older workers. The idea of redesigning a job or moving an older worker into other, less physically demanding government jobs – which might also free up much needed work for younger people – is nearly impossible because of the rules. And because of the economic crisis, there is really no money to provide supports such as aides or other assistance for these teachers. Even requesting to go down to half-time work seems to be difficult. In the end, these workers feel spent, with insufficient time at the end of the day to recover from their grueling jobs.

We already know how important it is for employers to provide flexibility to workers – be it for taking care of non-work needs or helping a dedicated, long-term worker adapt to a difficult situation. And most employers do so if they can. But the other side – extreme inflexibility among some employers – is a deadly situation that we need to pay attention to. This is reality for many people, and it has profound effects on these workers’ emotional and physical health.

Submitted by Donald Truxillo, Ph.D., Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, Portland State University Occupational Health Psychology Program.

OccHealthSci Topic: Aging Workforce

2014 Western Pulp, Paper, & Forest Products Safety & Health Conference Appears to be Going “Viral”

The Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences has been attending this conference for many years, and this year, we noticed something extraordinary. A formerly sleepy conference has taken on new energy and is attracting attendees from as far away as South Carolina and surrounding states. And all participants, from health and safety managers to loggers in the field, showed an eagerness to improve safety in their workplaces.

Perhaps it is because this conference is one of only a few health and safety conferences in the United States addressing the needs of the woods products industry. Or maybe it’s because this conference offered timely topics for both loggers and forest products operators…who knows? Nevertheless, this is great news for those concerned about safety, health and wellbeing in an industrial sector that has traditionally been one of the most hazardous.

We were interested in learning about what most concerns wood products workers in their jobs, so we posed the following questions (see photo): What’s on your mind? What’s of concern in your workplace? The most common expressed concern related to sleep; workers often feel as though they are not able to get enough. Sound familiar? Sleep is a hot topic, because research is showing that abnormal sleep is a major factor in a variety of disease states, including obesity and heart disease, among others. Our institute is conducting a variety of research in this area. The many other concerns posted by participants can be seen in the photo.

And finally, we have to mention our Oregon Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (OR-FACE) program. OR-FACE is producing a wide variety of Tool Box Talks that address workplace fatalities in Oregon and how to avoid them. These were very popular at this conference. You can access and download the OR-FACE Tool Box Talks series on the OR-FACE website.

This conference was a joint effort of the Oregon/Idaho/Utah Pulp & Paper Workers Council of AWPPW, Oregon Occupational Safety & Health Division (Oregon OSHA), the Washington/Alaska Council of AWPPW, the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (DOSH), USW, the pulp and paper manufacturing, and forest products industries.

Online inventory of fall protection devices

Falls from height continue to be the most common cause of construction worker fatality. This is especially true in residential construction. In the latest Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) update, they announced the online inventory of fall protection equipment. The Fall Protection Resource for New Home Construction website was developed by faculty members at Washington University in St. Louis and supported by CPWR through a NIOSH cooperative agreement. It is a catalogue of fall preventions devices utilized in residential construction and contains links to equipment manufacturer/distributor websites. A snapshot  of the 1st page of the website is shown here. The page can be searched by the type of fall protection desired or by the phase of construction applicable to the device.

More information related to fall protection can be found on the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences web resource page.

SERVe Serves Employers of Veterans

Portland State University, in partnership with OHSU and the VA, is working on a $5 million Department of Defense grant offering free training to organizations who want to be the employer of choice for Oregon’s returning veteran population.

The Veteran Supportive Supervisor Training (VSST), developed by Dr. Leslie Hammer and her team focuses on teaching supervisors supportive behaviors and military culture in order to increase veteran job retention.  Dr. Hammer saw a need due to Oregon being the second most deployed state in the last decade and wanted to give organizations and employees a leg up in the reintegration process.

This training will not only bolster an organization’s bottom-line, but facilitate better communication between supervisor and employee, reduce intent to turnover, and ultimately improve work/life balance for the whole organization.

Currently, SERVe (Study for Employment Retention of Veterans) is looking for employers to take part in the free training.  Veterans who work at least 20 hours a week at participating organizations and are post 9/11 can take part in surveys measuring how the training is affecting their work and family life balance; they will be compensated $25 per survey (3 surveys in total).

The list of current participants includes private companies such as Intel, EID Passport and Bend Research, as well as state and local governments: Multnomah and Clackamas Counties among others.  Other participating organizations can be seen at www. servestudy.org.

Organizational training recruitment continues through Fall 2015.  Please contact Michelle Matthews, Military Project Coordinator for a packet of information about how to get involved: mlm5@pdx.edu

Submitted by Michelle Matthews, Portland State University

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