The Secret Identity of OSHPosted on by
Fans of the comic book hero team The Avengers continue to break box office records with the movie Endgame. Let’s take a light-hearted moment to imagine the role occupational safety and health could play in some of our favorite fictional heroes’ origin stories and their secret identities.
A large number of these characters’ heroic paths started with careless incidents that would most likely prove fatal to us mere mortals and not grant special green bulletproof skin or spider-like abilities. Some of these incidents could have been prevented by following known safety and health guidelines.
In comics the titular character usually assumes an alter ego to hide their superhero persona to the public. These “secret identities” often involve jobs that could benefit from NIOSH occupational safety and health (OSH) information.
Let’s explore how OSH could keep all types of working heroes safe so they can do their jobs keeping the real world safe for the rest of us.
Peter Parker / The Amazing Spider-Man
As a result of a radioactive spider bite on his high school field trip, Peter Parker developed powers and abilities similar to that of a spider. Young Peter and his other classmates could have learned how to prevent and protect themselves from spider bites, and what should be done if they are bitten, on the NIOSH Venomous spiders topic page.
While Spider-Man uses his web shooters to keep from falling, those working in heights could benefit from the NIOSH Falls in the Workplace topic page. This OSH resource contains fact sheets, a ladder safety mobile app and even an aerial lift hazard recognition simulator.
Bruce Banner / The Incredible Hulk
Bruce Banner was a scientist exposed to extreme amounts of radiation that altered his DNA structure. Due to this accidental bombardment of gamma rays Bruce became a giant green (at first grey) creature known as The Incredible Hulk whenever he is angered.
To help prevent the Hulk from emerging at work, Dr. Banner could consult the NIOSH Working with Stress and NIOSH Occupational Violence topic pages. In addition, Dr. Banner could have prevented this life-changing incident from happening by using the NIOSH Pocket Guide and School Chemistry Lab Safety Guide.
Bruce Wayne / Batman
Bruce Wayne, the wealthy owner of Wayne Enterprises trains himself physically and intellectually crafting a bat-inspired persona to fight crime after witnessing the murder of his parents. The Batman is covered from head-to-toe in a variety of personal protective equipment (PPE) to not only hide his alter ego but to strike fear into his enemies. This previous NIOSH Science Blog The Superhero Ensemble: Protecting More than a Secret Identity explores the real world challenges and lists best practices for the costumed crusader. And Holy Histoplasmosis Batman! We can’t miss the opportunity to provide information about the hazards of working around bat droppings. See Histoplasmosis: Protecting Workers at Risk.
Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel
Receiving her powers during an explosion, Air Force Officer and pilot Carol Danvers, the cosmic Captain Marvel, now joins other female superheroes such as Black Widow, Gamora, and Valkyrie in Avengers: Endgame. The field of occupational safety and health is full of prominent women from the ‘mother of occupational safety and health’ Alice Hamilton to the many women leading the field today. The NIOSH Aviation Safety topic page provides safety information for pilots like Carol.
Hank Pym / Ant-Man
Biophysicist Dr. Pym discovers a chemical substance, called “Pym Particles” which allows Pym to modify his body size from gigantic to the size of an ant. However, during his adventures the Ant-Man accidentally reduces into the sub atomic fantasy quantum realm. The NIOSH Nanotechnology topic page could help Pym Technologies increase understanding of new hazards and related health risks for those working with nanomaterials.
Dr. Donald Blake / Thor
For the purists, Thor the God of Thunder began in the comics with an alias of Dr. Donald Blake.
When the partially disabled doctor would strike his walking stick on the ground it would magically transform into Mjolnir Thor’s magical hammer.
The way Thor swings his hammer would cause a mere mortal to have a serious repetitive strain injury. Those who use tools (such as hammers) at work can be at risk for soft-tissue injuries caused by sudden or sustained exposure to repetitive motion, force, vibration, and awkward positions. The NIOSH Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal topic page provides information on the preventing such injuries.
Tony Stark / The Invincible Iron Man
Tony Stark, wealthy businessman and ingenious scientist, suffered a severe chest injury during a kidnap attempt. Crafting a powered suit of amour to escape, Tony would later create subsequent versions adding weapons and technological devices from Stark Industries becoming the Invincible Iron Man. Stark required emergency care for his heart upon escape. While the Arc Reactor installed in Stark’s chest is pure fiction, in real life, healthcare workers face a wide range of hazards including sharps injuries, harmful exposures to chemicals and hazardous drugs, back injuries, latex allergy, violence, and stress. The NIOSH Healthcare Workers topic page contains resources for the prevention of healthcare worker illness and injury.
Not every business can be a global conglomerate like Stark Industries. The small businesses of the world can benefit from the safety and health information on the NIOSH Small business topic page.
Arthur Curry / Aquaman
This half-Atlantian half-human King of Atlantis is the protector of the oceans of the earth. With his telepathic ability to communicate with all marine life he often assists those in distress at sea with the help of his aquatic friends. The NIOSH Commercial Fishing Safety topic page is also a great resource for workers to reduce risks associated with the hazards of commercial fishing. This page provides helpful videos, infographics, and publications on the greatest dangers to fisherman including vessel disasters, deck safety, and falls overboard.
The Real Superheroes
While exploring the comic universe was fun, our nation’s first responders address real-world emergencies every day. The NIOSH Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) program integrates occupational safety and health into emergency responses during planning and preparedness activities to protect response and recovery workers.
The topic areas below contain guidance to assist employers and responders to achieve the goal of worker safety and health during responses:
Emergency Preparedness and Response Program
Emergency Preparedness and Response Resources
Emergency Medical Services Workers
Fire Fighter Resources
Emergency Preparedness for Business
Motor Vehicle Safety at Work
Without Gamma Mutations, Bat Tumblers or Spidey Senses these men and women head into hazardous situations to keep all of us safe…Those are the real superheroes. To quote Stan Lee ‘Nuff Said!
Stephen R. Leonard is a Senior Multimedia Developer in the NIOSH Division of Science Integration