Direct-reading instruments are valuable tools for detecting and measuring worker exposure to hazards such as gases, vapors, aerosols, surface contamination, musculoskeletal disorders, and radiation. These instruments provide on-site measurement of exposures in units (such as parts per million parts of air, or ppm) that indicate whether or not the exposures pose an occupational health or safety risk and if the prevention methods employed are actually providing the proper level of protection. There are many types of instruments available, each of which is designed for a specific monitoring purpose. For example, NIOSH developed a new personal dust monitor (PDM) in collaboration with manufacturers, labor, and industry for assessing miners’ exposure to coal dust in underground coal mines. The first advancement in more than 30 years for monitoring coal dust exposures, the PDM provides real-time exposure data during a work shift. It warns of potential over-exposures in time for mine operators to reduce exposures that might lead over time to development of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis or “black lung,” a debilitating lung disease that caused 14,000 deaths between 1991 and 2000.
Direct-reading methods, analytical techniques for assessing exposure, also save lives. Nationwide, tens of thousands of police, fire, and other responders are at serious risk for occupational exposures to methamphetamine residues, as well as other toxic chemicals, when entering illegal clandestine drug labs for search, seizure, and remediation. In response to requests from first responders for real-time surface detection methods for methamphetamine, NIOSH developed a colorimetric wipe and an immunochemical surface wipe detection method. Both products are commercially available and have proven to be cost-effective ways to immediately detect methamphetamine residues.
The unique requirements and applications of direct-reading methods in both routine occupational activities and emergency preparedness call for the development of improved laboratory and field test capabilities, along with a comprehensive suite of standard reference materials and values that can be used to evaluate and validate the method or instrument performance and the interpretation of their results. Great opportunities exist to harness twenty-first century technologies to improve and develop new direct-reading analytical techniques and direct-reading instruments to accurately assess exposures in time-sensitive ways and to support appropriate actions to assure worker and public health.
To address these issues, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is holding the Direct Reading Exposure Assessment Methods (D.R.E.A.M.) Workshop in Washington, D.C., November 13-14, 2008. The workshop will gather stakeholder input from academia, labor, management, developers, governmental agencies, and manufacturers on the research needs in the area of direct reading methods for assessing occupational exposures.
NIOSH is seeking input from our partners as we prepare for the workshop. The general session will include a group of plenary state-of-the-art presentations addressing direct reading exposure assessment methods for workplaces and will cover issues relevant to the broad range of employment sectors and occupational hazards, such as validation, data handling, and interpretation.
Following the general session there will be six concurrent breakout sessions divided by hazard, including: aerosols, gases/vapors, ergonomics (including vibration, lighting, and heat stress), noise, ionizing radiation, and surface sampling/biomonitoring. Each breakout session will develop the specific research needs for each type of occupational hazard. NIOSH would appreciate comments on the topics identified by the breakout session monitors (see list at left). Input received through this blog by July 31, 2008 will help create the final workshop agenda.
Input from the workshop will help develop research priorities for direct reading exposure assessment methods. Proceedings from the workshop will be posted on the NIOSH website. More information on the D.R.E.A.M. workshop can be found at http://www.team-psa.com/dream2008. More information on direct reading methods is available on the NIOSH website.
—Christopher Coffey, Ph.D.
Dr. Coffey is Chief of the Laboratory Research Branch in NIOSH’s Division of Respiratory Disease Studies. He is also coordinating the D.R.E.A.M. workshop.