Occupational Health and Safety
Jim Cone, MD, MPH
OHS Section Chair:
Medical Director, WTC Health Registry
233 Broadway, 26th Floor
New York, NY 10279-2600
OHS Section Newsletter Editor:
Ingrid A. Denis, MA
Fax: (202) 347-4950
Jim Cone, MD, MPH
One of the most memorable sessions at APHA last year was a plenary session on public health as a human rights issue. This past year I have been struck repeatedly by how important this perspective is on our work in occupational health and safety. The issue of human rights is so integrally linked with virtually every current issue in occupational health, particularly when it involves immigrant, low wage or contingent workers.
Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Journalists, in particular, perhaps best reflect the importance of this basic human right. As so aptly demonstrated in the history of the flu pandemic of 1918, journalists are essential to defending public health in general. Much of the advances in occupational health have been a result of journalists' coverage of particular occupational health issues, from coal mine disasters to needlestick injuries.
The health and safety of journalists traditionally has focused in the United States and Northern Europe on issues of stress and repetitive motion injuries. The emergence of new technologies and media outlets has increased the need for up-to-date information, with pressures on journalists to be first on the scene, and deliver first-hand accounts of breaking stories. Some journalists, photographers and camera operators may be subject to hazards unforeseen in their attempts to cover the story. Such situations may include coverage of refinery explosions or chemical spills, entering construction sites or quarries and other workplaces which may constitute hazards the journalists or other members of the team might be unaware of and ill-prepared for in advance.
We rarely think of it as an occupational health issue, but journalists, as a profession, are also increasingly subject to violations of their human rights. Journalists have become frequent targets of kidnapping and assaults. The number of reported deaths among journalists now exceeds several dozen per year. According to Reporters Without Borders (http://www.rsf.org/ ), more than 792 journalists have been killed on the job since 1992, 389 in war zones. Coverage of the most important international events in recent times, including the war in Iraq and civil wars in Africa, is now so dangerous that independent journalists no longer can effectively cover these stories. A total of 167 journalists have been killed in Iraq alone since the latest war began in March 2003, more than were killed in 20 years in Vietnam. Local journalists now are often the only first-hand observers, and they risk their lives daily to provide us with crucial information.
Media organizations sending their crew to war-torn countries or areas with potential for violence and other crises need to offer advice and training prior to deployment. This should include first aid, risk assessment training, survival skills and protective clothing as well as vital information about the terrain in which they will be working.
What can our Section of APHA do to help? One suggestion we discussed at a recent leadership meeting was to develop a policy resolution regarding the issue in order to motivate APHA to speak up about this. Should we sponsor a session on occupational hazards to journalists at the 2008 Annual Meeting, in conjunction with groups like Reporters Without Borders? Do you have other suggestions? Please let me know if you would like to discuss further what actions we might be able to take.
Return to Top
APHA 2007: OHS Section Awards Luncheon, Tuesday, November 6
Celeste Monforton, email@example.com
Mark your calendar for the most phenomenal OHS Section Awards Luncheon ever! This year's Awards Luncheon will take place at the Washington Convention Center on Tuesday, Nov. 6 at . We will celebrate the accomplishments of our colleagues and savor the entertainment provided by the one and only Dooley's Thespians.
For the first time in many years, the Section is coordinating the event through APHA, which means tickets MUST be purchased IN ADVANCE through the REGISTRATION system. (If you received your Advanced Program brochure, turn to page 28, and look at STEP 9 "Ticketed Luncheons." Item #3, Occupational Health Box Lunch, is the line item to select to purchase a ticket for the OHS Section Luncheon.) When you register for the conference online, you will come to a screen that gives you the option of purchasing tickets for all kinds of meal events. Make sure you select the "Occupational Health BOX LUNCH" option (you can't miss it because BOX LUNCH is capitalized.) When you receive your official name badge for the Annual Meeting, you will also receive your ticket for the OHS Section Awards Luncheon.
A limited number of tickets will be sold by APHA on Sunday, but no tickets for the lunch will be sold on Monday or Tuesday. Plan ahead and buy your ticket when you register.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 994-0774.
Register EARLY for the annual meeting and SAVE money. The early-bird registration fee is $360 for those who register by August 23. Those who register after that date will be charged $415 (before Oct. 1) and $475 (after Oct. 1).
Return to Top
Education & Labor Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
For the first time in 12 years, the U.S. Congress is launching an aggressive campaign to examine the safety of America’s workplaces and determine whether the agency assigned to oversee workplace safety – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – is doing the job that Congress gave it when the agency was created over 35 years ago. Both the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee have held a number of hearings and are considering a variety of legislative initiatives.
A number of hearings have been held in the House of Representatives. The full Education and Labor Committee has held two hearings on mine safety to monitor the implementation of the MINER Act that was passed in the wake of the Sago and other mine disasters of 2006.
The Education and Labor Committee also held a hearing on the 2005 BP Texas city explosion in which 15 workers were killed. The committee is closely monitoring OSHA’s oversight of this nation’s refineries and chemical plants and is considering another hearing and possible legislation.
The Workplace Protections Subcommittee has held two OSHA oversight hearings – one addressing OSHA’s failure to issue standards and a second on lack of coverage for public employees. Eric Peoples, a victim of popcorn lung, testified at the standards hearing, and Casey Jones, whose husband was killed in an explosion at the Daytona Beach wastewater treatment plant, testified at the public employee hearing.
The Senate held a general OSHA oversight hearing prior to Workers Memorial Day and has also held a mine safety hearing where AFL-CIO Director Peg Seminario and George Washington University professor David Michaels testified.
Several pieces of legislation have been introduced to address workplace safety issues. Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chair, Lynn Woolsey and Education and Labor Committee Chair George Miller introduced legislation (HR 2693) to force OSHA to issue an emergency standard to address “popcorn lung” caused by the artificial butter flavoring, diacetyl.
Woolsey and Miller in the House and Senators Ted Kennedy and Patty Murray in the Senate have re-introduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act (HR 2049, S 1244), which addresses a number of issues, including the inadequacy of OSHA penalties, non-coverage of public employees and workers who fall under the jurisdiction of other government agencies like the Federal Aviation Commission, instead of OSHA. The Protecting America’s Workers Act also address the rights of families after a workplace fatality and improved whistleblower protections.
Rep. Rob Andrews has also introduced HR 1517, which addresses public employee coverage. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has introduced HR 268 to address problems in the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, and in the Senate, Patty Murray has introduced the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007 (S.742) and held a hearing.
There are a number of other issues of interest to representatives, including:
•Addressing the health needs of World Trade Center recovery workers: The committee will be looking into why workers weren’t protected at Ground Zero, OSHA’s performance during Katrina and who is responsible for worker safety during national disasters.
•The causes of chronic under-reporting of injuries and illnesses: OSHA’s inadequate efforts to protect immigrant workers who suffer from a disproportionately high rate of workplace injuries and fatalities.
•OSHA’s failure to address ergonomics problems: Despite pledges made after the 2001 repeal of OSHA ergonomics standard, OSHA has made few citations and issued only a small handful of guidelines. Meanwhile, musculoskeletal injuries continue to amount to a third of all injuries and illnesses, over 375,000 serious ergo injuries requiring days away from work.
•Updating OSHA’s Permissible Exposure Limits: OSHA is still enforcing chemical standards based on science from the 1950s and 1960s, while thousands of other chemicals go completely unregulated. Congressional leaders are interested in finding a way for OSHA to update its chemical standards.
•OSHA’s ineffective penalty structure: OSHA fines are so low that they provide no disincentive to breaking the law.
Return to Top
Recruiting New Members: OHS Section Membership Committee Report
Section leadership and members have been working hard to reach out to new potential members, and to involve current members in Section activities. The Section developed and distributed recruitment flyers geared to specific groups in the area of occupational health and safety, including occupational health nurses, occupational physicians, industrial hygienists, NIOSH funded Education and Research Centers (ERCs), COSH groups, and union activists. A mailing was also sent to the 1,775 APHA members who were unaffiliated with a section.
Efforts have also been made to reach out to students in occupational health and safety programs. For example, several ERCs offered student memberships in APHA to some of their students.
New members have been joining our section, but many people have been allowing their memberships to lapse. APHA membership overall has declined between 2000-2007. Our section had 683 members as of March 31, 2007, down from 708 members as of July 31, 2006. However, our percentage of the APHA membership remains at 2.61 percent due to a decline in APHA membership during that period.
We still need to do a lot more to retain current members and recruit new members:
1) All OHS Section Members should make it their goal to reach out and recruit at least one new member before the next APHA meeting in November.
2) Please print out the OHS Section recruitment flyer (http://depts.washington.edu/oshalert/section_description.htm) and distribute it to your colleagues and students. Links to specific flyers (for occupational physicians, nurses, and union activists) are embedded in the general recruitment flyer (“section description”).
Let them know of the benefits of APHA membership and the valuable role we play in the struggle to improve public health in general and occupational health in particular.
3) Consider becoming active in your state APHA affiliate as a way of meeting potential new members, and also to let other public activists know about OHS Section activities and candidates for APHA-wide office.
4) Volunteer to spend a little time helping the Membership Committee in its activities. Any time would be helpful. APHA regularly sends us lists of OHS section members whose membership has expired – and therefore who need a reminder letter or call. They also send us lists of new members, who need to be welcomed into our section, especially by members in their area. Let me know if I can add you to the list of volunteers to whom I regularly distribute such membership lists, and who can reach out to section members in that way.
on behalf of the OHS Section Membership Committee:
Return to Top
James P. Keogh Memorial Scholarship Fund
In 1999, the OHS Section established the James P. Keogh Memorial Scholarship Fund to promote and strengthen the participation of students and union representatives and members in the OHS Section. The Fund recognizes the need for the involvement of workers and new health and safety professionals in order to make our workplaces and communities healthy and safe.
The Fund was established to honor the enormous contribution Dr. James (Jim) Keogh made to health and safety not only through his own considerable body of work, but also with his generosity as a mentor, teacher and colleague nurturing and influencing the work of others.
The OHS Section will be awarding another round of scholarships covering registration for the 2007 APHA Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. (Nov. 3 -7), a one-year APHA membership and $300 for conference-related expenses. Last year we had outstanding winners who participated in the conference, our section meetings and special events, and a special session on bringing students into the field. Both the students and their section mentors reported a very positive experience.
The scholarship program's goal is to strengthen the participation of students and union representatives in APHA. We recognize that we need the involvement of workers and new health and safety professionals to make our workplaces and communities healthy and safe. Applications are available on the OHS Section Web site and must be submitted by July 31, 2007.
The Scholarship Fund needs the support of all members of the Occupational Health and Safety Section. Please be generous in your tax-deductible contribution to the James P. Keogh Memorial Scholarship Fund. The check should be made out to APHA-Jim Keogh Scholarship. The checks can be sent to the main APHA address, 800 I Street, NW Washington, DC 20001 with attention, Fran Atkinson.
If you have any questions contact Karen B. Mulloy, at
Karen.Mulloy@dhha.org or (303) 436-3888.
Return to Top
Why Immigrant Workers Are Coming to the U.S., and How We Can and Need to Work Together
In April 2007, Garrett Brown (email@example.com) addressed meeting attendees at the luncheon of the Center to Protect Workers Rights conference, Immigrant Workers in Construction in Sacramento, Calif. His speech addressed: 1) how the global economy works; 2) why immigrant workers are coming to this country, especially from Mexico and Central America; and 3) what we as union organizers and health and safety activists can do to work together with immigrant workers for the good of all. For a complete copy of the speech, see Immigrant Workers.pdf.
(Photo Courtesy: Rally for Immigrant Rights, Chicago. Kenneth Ilio, 2006)
Return to Top
Book Corner: Young Men & Fire by Norman MacLean
Katie Kemen graduated from George Washington University in May 2007 with a BS in Public Health. She wrote this review of Young Men & Fire while a student in Celeste Monforton's "Health and the Environment" class. Katie is currently working as a public health specialist in New Hampshire at the Northern Strafford County Health and Safety Council.
In Young Men and Fire, author Norman MacLean attempts to piece together the fragmented and largely unknown story of the Mann Gulch, Mont., fire of 1949. His story is part history of the smokejumpers, who he chronicles, part history of the fire itself, and part account of his journey to discover the truth about this story.
MacLean begins with a description of the smokejumpers, a relatively new outfit in 1949. At the time, many of the smokejumpers were daredevils and bar rats who made extra money in the summer jumping out of planes and fighting fires. Their training was limited, they barely knew each other, and were mostly very young men (17-25 years old). However, with all these flaws, the smokejumpers made one of the greatest advances in fighting forest fires and markedly reduced the number of fires that were allowed to grow to dangerous proportions.
When the fire broke out on August 5, 1949, 15 smokejumpers were dropped into the steep and rocky Mann Gulch during record-breaking high temperatures. Their bad luck began from the start when their equipment landed far from the men. While the men were getting themselves together, the fire was growing and changing courses. Nearly as soon as the men started fighting the fire, their foreman, Wag Dodge, realized the fire was moving too fast and ordered his men to drop their tools and run for their lives. By the end of the uphill sprint, only three survived.
Dodge was one of the survivors and the cause of the biggest controversy of the story. As the men were sprinting up the steep incline he lit a fire in the shallow grass and when it burned out, ordered his men to lie in it where the main fire would have nothing left to burn. The young smokejumpers had never seen anything like this and didn’t understand his orders to lie down in the path of a forest fire. They kept running and soon died. Some claimed that the escape fire prevented their chance of escaping while others claimed it was ingenious and could have saved all their lives.
Throughout MacLean’s investigation into the fire, he uses a wide variety of sources. In many instances, he begins with original documents, statements, and maps that were created in the days immediately following the fire by the Review Board. He uses these as starting points for further investigation, noting that the many emotions, personal motives for protecting reputations, time and the limited knowledge of fires in 1949 prevented one from taking these documents at face value. MacLean himself describes the difficulty of and slow progress in finding good data. He says,
So it had taken us three years to locate two places on the ground-a summer to discover whether any survivors still had addresses on this earth; then a winter to induce the two still alive to return to the top of the ridge they had been trying to forget…and then still another summer…to find out they had been successful in forgetting certain things (213).
MacLean visits the site of the fire several times to come to his own conclusions. He spends much time focusing on the timing of the men’s run uphill and the location of their bodies to investigate their chances of escaping alive. He uses statements from the survivors, maps, and even evidence from burned watches on victims’ wrists and personally times the men’s routes. In one trip he brings the two living survivors (Dodge had died shortly after the fire) back to the gulch to follow them as they retraced their escape from the fire.
MacLean also calls upon the help of old and new friends in the forest service. Laird Robinson, a Forest Service ranger, was his primary partner in the investigation. They contacted everyone from the postmistress in town, to W.R. “Bud” Moore, the director of Aviation and Fire Management for Region One of the Forest Service, to scientists at the Northern Forest Fire Laboratory to help them. These people were able to recover confidential files, explain mathematical fire “blow-up” equations, and even recreate the conditions of the Mann Gulch fire in controlled settings.
I believe that MacLean’s wide variety of sources and patience in gathering the evidence make his case very strong. Throughout, it is clear MacLean has painstakingly assembled the most thorough, unbiased, and current information possible to discover the truth of what really happened during the fire.
MacLean is able to explain very technical aspects of fires and firefighting in a way that makes them understandable to someone with limited knowledge in this area. I learned about the extensive work that goes into studying fires and how that translates into firefighting tactics. For example, Harry Gibson was a pioneering scientist in fire behavior science. His work observing fires from the 150 foot “weather tree” inspired others and eventually resulted in the development of three forest fire research laboratories in Montana, Georgia, and California, fully equipped with wind-tunnels and advanced computer technology. Each laboratory studies fire behavior pertaining to their location; the Montana location specializes in lighting fires and rough terrain, the type of fire that occurred in Mann Gulch. These laboratories have revamped the Fire Danger Rating System and have created fire behavior technology. Richard Rothermel, one of the scientists MacLean consults, was responsible for developing new training programs and implementing the Forest Service’s new fire policy, namely, fire management and control instead of fighting each and every fire.
I believe MacLean’s work does not make a major contribution to the field of public health; rather, he is the storyteller of those who did make the contributions. Halfway through his book MacLean asks 1) did this tragic fire improve scientific knowledge of fires to keep firefighters safer; and 2) did this fire improve training of firefighters to add to their safety? MacLean states that the fact that only two smokejumpers have died since the Mann Gulch fire suggests the world must have learned something from this tragedy. One visible change was the development of the Standard Fire Fighting Orders that are included in all forest firefighting training programs. Also, Dodge’s controversial escape fire became a permanent part of the training sessions for forest firefighters. Their escape fire also attracted the attention of prominent scientists and the resulted in great advancements in understanding forest fires.
The fire that occurred in Mann Gulch on August 5, 1949 was certainly a tragedy, but its effects brought about major changes in the safety and knowledge of the forest firefighting community. Of the immense impact of the deaths of those 13 smokejumpers of the Mann Gulch fire, MacLean says,
For those who crave immortality by name, clearly this is not enough, but for many of us it would mean a great deal to know that, by our dying, we were often to be present in times of catastrophe helping to save the living from our deaths (222).
MacLean, N. (1972) Young Men and Fire. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.
Return to Top
Upcoming Events and Courses
30th Annual Occupational Safety and Health Summer Institute (Norfolk, Va.), July 30-August 3, 2007. Thirty-six courses will be presented. For course descriptions, visit www.unc.edu/osherc/ce.htm or call the North Carolina Education and Research Center at (888) 235-3320.
Occupational Health Nursing Certification Review (Norfolk, Va.), July 30-August 1, 2007. This program is designed to provide an intensive review for experienced OHNs in preparation for the American Board of Occupational Health Nurses Certification exam. For more information, visit www.unc.edu/osherc/ce.htm or call the North Carolina Education and Research Center at (888) 235-3320.
PREMUS 2007: 6th International Scientific Conference on Prevention of Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (Boston), August 26-30, 2007. (This is the first time PREMUS has been held in North America in 10 years). For complete details and more information, go to www.premus2007.org.
Third International Symposium on Nanotechnology, Occupational and Environmental Health (Taipei, Taiwan), August 29-Sept. 1, 2007. For more information, visit: http://nano-taiwan.sinica.edu.tw/EHS2007/index.htm or contact Emily Shih, Tel: +886-2-2504-4338 ext.18, Fax:+886-2-2504-4362, E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Course: Comprehensive Industrial Hygiene Review Course (Chapel Hill, N.C.), August 14, 2007. For more information call: (888) 235-3320, www.osherc.sph.unc.edu/
Call for Abstracts: Work, Stress and Health 2008: Healthy and Safe Work Through Research, Practice, and Partnerships (Washington, D.C.), March 6-8, 2008. Proposal deadline for posters, papers and symposia: August 31, 2007. For more information call: (202) 336-6033 or visit: http://www.apa.org/pi/work/wsh.html
WorkLife 2007: Protecting and Promoting Worker Health Symposium (Bethesda, MD), Sept. 10-11, 2007. The Symposium is sponsored by NIOSH and partner agencies and organizations. For more information visit: http://www.worklife2007.com/home.asp.
Western Occupational Health Conference (San Diego, Calif.), Oct. 4-7, 2007. For more information, call (415) 927-5736 or visit: www.woema.org
EPICOH 2007: 19th International Conference on Epidemiology in Occupational Health (Banff, Alberta), Oct. 9-12, 2007. For more information, visit www.epicoh2007.ca
ICOH: 3rd International Symposium on Work Ability - Promotion of Work Ability Towards a Productive Aging (Hanoi, Vietnam), Oct. 22-24, 2007. For more information, visit: http://www.uoeh-u.ac.jp/kouza/ningen/aging.html or contact M. Jean-Luc Malo at email@example.com.
Seventh International Conference on Occupational Health for Health Care Workers (Vancouver, British Columbia), Oct. 26-28, 2007. Organized by: ICOH Scientific Committee on Health Care Worker Health and ACOEM. For more information, visit: http://www.acoem.org/icoh.aspx.
MPH via Distance Education
Your Master’s in Public Health with an Occupational Health Nursing concentration via distance education from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is only a click away. Attend classes online anytime of the day or night. Tuition assistance is available.
ØFor more information contact Judy Ostendorf (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Bonnie Rogers (email@example.com) and visit: www.sph.unc.edu/phlp/distance/ohn.htm.
Return to Top
Occupational Health and Safety Newsletter Archives