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School of Public Health and Community Medicine - University of Washington - Winter 2009
 
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
Our Field Group and EH Lab
Student Research on Worker Exposures
Designing Age Friendly Workplace
Continuing Education & Events
Delivering Quality Care to Injured Workers
Conference Presentations
People & Places
Student Research
The Fine Print

WORKER HEALTH AND SAFETY

Our department offers consultations, laboratory testing, and clinical services to businesses and labor groups to promote the safety and health of workers in Washington state. In this issue, we highlight our successes in identifying occupational hazards and offering strategies to prevent injury or illness, successes that depend on interdisciplinary collaborations within our department and strong relationships with external partners. We also feature researchers working to improve the delivery of health care to injured workers.


OUR FIELD GROUP AND EH LAB

The strong collaboration among the Field Research and Consultation Group (Field Group), Environmental Health Laboratory (EH Lab), and department researchers illustrates our commitment to worker health and safety in Washington state. The EH Lab, accredited by the American Industrial Hygiene Association, offers a wide range of services in analytical chemistry and instrumentation. The five members of the lab (pictured below, left to right) include Senior Research Scientist & Quality Assurance Coordinator Jianbo Yu, Laboratory Administrative Manager Rosie Schaffer, Research Scientist Tristan Butterfield, EH Lab Director Russell Dills, and Research Scientists Jacqui Ahmad and Maureen Cornell. The EH Lab responds to industrial hygiene service requests from a variety of organizations and agencies, including those from the Field Group. The EH Lab also provides consultation on the chemicals produced during industrial processes.

Using EH lab analyses and our faculty's expertise to pinpoint potential problems, Field Group staff provide employers and workers strategies to reduce occupational health and safety hazards. The five members of the Field Group include Research Industrial Hygienists Gerry Croteau and Marty Cohen, Research Scientist Marc Beaudreau, Field Group Director Janice Camp, and Research Industrial Hygienist Venetia Runnion. They have professional certifications in industrial hygiene and safety, among other specialties, and nearly 100 years of cumulative experience working on a wide variety of health and safety issues in the workplace. The Field Group also offers our graduate and undergraduate students a chance to participate in research projects, work closely with our external partners, and develop technical expertise.

Below we highlight collaborative projects between the Field Group and EH Lab, who work closely with external partners to identify occupational hazards and strategies to prevent injury and illness.

Field Group & EH Lab group
Members of the EH Lab (top row) and Field Group (bottom row).
Photo by Sarah Fischer

ELECTRONICS RECYCLING & METAL EXPOSURE

The upcoming shift from analog to digital broadcasting has motivated many consumers to shop for new televisions and throw out older TV sets, which are useless without a digital TV converter box or cable subscription. Some components of electronic equipment are made up of heavy metals like lead, which is why discarded TVs, computers, monitors, and other electronics are potentially toxic to the environment and to human health. Each year, millions of pounds of electronic products end up in Washington state landfills. In order to better protect the environment, Washington state legislation, effective January 1, 2009, requires manufacturers to assume the cost of recycling TVs, computers, and other e-waste. A Seattle-based electronics recycling facility contacted the Field Group to evaluate its workers' potential exposure to metal dust generated and accumulated during recycling and to determine the need for their workers to wear respiratory protection. The company wanted to know if it had the proper safeguards in place.

Russell Dills and Venetia Runnion used a portable X-ray fluorescence unit to test areas in the facility for highsurface contamination of metals and bromine. Bromine is a marker for polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), a type of flame retardant used in electronic casings. Two of the three most commonly used PBDEs have been banned in Washington state because of their toxicity, ability to bioaccumulate, and persistence in the environment. In addition, Runnion and Marc Beaudreau collected airborne and surface wipe samples from the recycling facility.

Nearly all samples taken from surfaces that employees use frequently had detectable levels of lead dust. The Field Group recommended that the facility improve its housekeeping program and continue to use wet cleaning methods and/or HEPA filtered vacuums in the break areas and on work surfaces. The Field Group also recommended that employees continue to wash hands before eating, drinking, smoking, or taking breaks to remove potential metal dust, and that during work, gloves should be worn to prevent skin contact with the various metals.

Personal air samples were tested for potential exposure during diff erent recycling processes. The Field Group found regulated metals to be well below permissible exposure limits. Despite the relatively low levels, the Field Group recommended that personal protective equipment be used when workers are performing activities or operating machinery that may increase their risk of exposure.

The recycling facility plans to share the Field Group findings and recommendations with the Basel Action Network, which is based in Seattle and operates globally to raise awareness about the environmental and public health impacts of transporting potentially toxic products to poorer regions of the world.

FURTHER READING

The Environmental Protection Agency eCycling

BEST PRACTICES FOR WELDERS

In February 2006, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lowered the permissible exposure limit of hexavalent chromium or chromium 6, from 52 to 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Chromium 6 has been linked to cancer and can be found in paint, pigments, metal-plating tanks, and plastics, and can also be generated when welding or using tools that produce fire or sparks on stainless steel.

Nationwide, the new rule impacts 558,000 workers in general industry, including painters and metal platers. Fifty percent of these workers are welders who work in a wide variety of industries, including metal fabrication shops, foundries, shipyards, and maritime maintenance.

Over the past two years, the Field Group has collected air monitoring data on welders' exposures. Working with the EH Lab staff , the Field Group found that 30% of the samples collected from welders had exposures greater than the permissible exposure limit. Based on these results, the Puget Sound Shipbuilders Association was interested in the Field Group developing a training video in order to raise awareness on welders' potential exposures to chromium 6.

In 2008, the Field Group received funding from a Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) Safety and Health Investment Projects (SHIP) grant to produce a training video applicable to all industrial sectors. The training video will consist of seven five- to ten-minute modules on chromium 6 health hazards and best practices for reducing fume exposures. It will show footage of preferred and proven exposure controls for welders, and in particular, the effective use and placement of local exhaust ventilation. A workbook will accompany the video. Checklists and hazard assessment forms will be offered to welders and their supervisors so they can better understand how to successfully comply with the new standard. The video and training materials will be available free of charge from L&I.

Venetia Runnion, Marty Cohen, Janice Camp, Marc Beaudreau, and Graduate Research Assistant Bridget Igoe are developing the training video package.

FURTHER READING

Hexavalent chromium

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