On Workers’ Memorial Day we acknowledge the toll that work-related exposures have taken on American workers, their families, and communities. Each year, NIOSH collaborates with the staff of the CDC Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report (MMWR) to publish the most recent NIOSH analyses of occupational illness and injuries, and investigations of occupational hazards. The Workers’ Memorial Day issue of MMWR also presents the most recent annual statistics from several major occupational injury and illness surveillance systems. However, since there is no comprehensive occupational health surveillance system in the U.S. these numbers only partially describe the annual burden of occupational injuries and illnesses. Workers’ Memorial Day is an appropriate time to highlight occupational health and safety research and to point to the work that still needs to be done.
Each year on Workers’ Memorial Day, we are reminded that preventable occupational illnesses continue to claim workers’ lives and health. Work-related asthma is a significant source of ill health for US workers, but it is under-recognized by healthcare providers. In their report, Megan Casey, MPH and colleagues from NIOSH and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Occupational Health Surveillance Program (MDPH) describe a joint effort to identify work-related asthma and associated hazards in a foam factory. MDPH recognized a cluster of work-related asthma cases originating from the same workplace. Between 2008 and 2012, healthcare providers reported 9 cases of work-related asthma among workers at a syntactic foam factory. Subsequently, workers at the facility requested a NIOSH health hazard investigation (HHE). By conducting a survey among current employees, NIOSH investigators determined the number of workers with diagnosed asthma and asthma-like conditions in the factory. With 93% of current employees completing the questionnaire, the authors report that adult-onset asthma incidence was 12 times higher post-hire than pre-hire.
Work-related asthma is one of the occupational conditions under surveillance by states (most often, state health departments) with funding from NIOSH under its state-based surveillance program. Twenty three states are currently funded by NIOSH to collect and analyze data on select work-related conditions and carry out related education and prevention activities. Of those twenty three states, five have work-related asthma projects.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries in construction. NIOSH is once again collaborating with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and its stakeholders, including the NORA Construction Sector Council, in the “Safety Pays, Falls Cost” Campaign to Prevent Falls in Construction. From May 4-15, 2015, the ‘Stop Falls’ campaign will sponsor a National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction to encourage employers to talk to their employees about fall hazards and prevention measures. In 2014, almost 5,000 local stand-downs were reported to OSHA, with participation in all 50 states. Broad engagement and promotion across the United States is encouraged, including by state agencies and public health practitioners. Learn more about how to conduct a safety stand-down here.
Healthcare workers experience high rates of occupational injuries. In 2013, healthcare workers experienced more injuries than any other private sector industry group. In this issue of MMWR Weekly, Ahmed Gomaa, MD and colleagues describe an innovative approach to collecting detailed data about injuries to healthcare workers: the Occupational Health Safety Network (OHSN). NIOSH worked with partners to develop OHSN to better understand occupational injuries among healthcare workers, with the goal of informing prevention efforts. Among the data collected by OHSN are injury type, specific occupation of the healthcare worker, the facility location where the injury occurred, and extensive risk factor data. In their first report on OHSN for MMWR, Gomaa and colleagues analyzed data from 112 participating US healthcare facilities. Between January 1, 2012 and September 30, 2014, those facilities collected data on 10,860 OSHA-recordable slips, trips and falls, patient handling and movement injuries, and injuries due to workplace violence. Among the findings, the analysis highlights risk to nurses and nurses’ assistants, who experienced the highest overall rate of OSHA-recordable injuries. See the full report here. The OHSN system is available without charge to healthcare facilities. For more information visit the about OHSN website.
Kerry Souza, ScD, MPH
Dr. Souza is an epidemiologist in the NIOSH Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies
NIOSH would like to thank Doug Weatherwax, Editor, MMWR, for his continued assistance in preparing NIOSH content for publication in MMWR.