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Your Environment. Your Health.

Health Services Partnership of Dorchester

Dorchester Occupational Health Initiative

NIEHS Grant: R25ES012585
University of Massachusetts Lowell
Lenore S. Azaroff

Project Description:

Ensuring the occupational health and safety of workers in small businesses has always been a challenge. This challenge is even greater with industries that employ large numbers of immigrant workers, because these industries frequently present especially hazardous working conditions. Drawing on ethnic networks, business owner networks, and existing links to community organizations (including community health centers) with community-based participatory research projects is an effective way to reach low-income immigrant workers with culturally appropriate occupational health programs. The partners formed the Dorchester Occupational Health Initiative (DOHI) to work with immigrant populations in the Dorchester, Massachusetts area to assess their occupational health needs, involve the community in designing culturally appropriate interventions, implement education and training programs, and evaluate the impact of these efforts on the Dorchester community as well as on local policy and regulatory functions.

Three Vietnamese floor finishers were killed in work-related fires in one year. These deaths provided incentive for DOHI to convene experts from industry, labor, and environmental protection to investigate the hazards involved with floor finishing. They revealed that the most significant hazard was the highly flammable lacquer sealers that are often marketed specifically to Vietnamese workers. Other hazards were the volatile organic compounds found in many of the floor finishing products and the respirable wood dust produced from sanding floors. DOHI took the following measures to better protect the floor finishing workers:

DOHI helped launch the Massachusetts Floor Finishing Safety Task Force 

  • The Task Force developed a Floor Finishing Safety Checklist that was distributed to floor finishing companies, product distributors, and product manufacturers.
  • The Task Force filed two bills with Massachusetts legislature: one requiring certification and safety training of floor finishers, and another prohibiting the sale and use of flammable products in commercial wood floor finishing.
  • The Task Force submitted a regulation to require safety measure and permits for jobs using flammable products with the Massachusetts Board of Fire Prevention Regulations, which was passed in June 2010.
  • In July 2010, the legislature passed a bill banning the sale and use of lacquer sealers for wood floor finishing.

DOHI implemented a public health outreach campaign

  • DOHI worked with community organizations to disseminate information about floor finishing hazards through fact sheets, media releases, and presentations in homebuyer classes.
  • Viet-AID and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) translated the Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Alert describing the fatal fires and safety recommendations into Vietnamese, designed it to be more appealing to Vietnamese floor finishers, and then widely distributed it.
  • Viet-AID provided seven 5-hour trainings in the use of environmentally-preferable products to 146 floor finishers. Training participants practiced applying non-flammable, environmentally-preferable finishes to wood floors. They also viewed causes of floor finishing fires, discussed flash points, reviewed Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), and received the FACE Alert.
  • DOHI conducted a survey (interviewer-administered questionnaire) of 109 floor finishing workers' experiences with fires, products, exposure to outreach activities, changes made, and associations between changes and exposure to these activities prior to the banning of the lacquers.


In addition to the policy changes that were put into place as a result of this initiative, several other significant discoveries were made.


  • Outreach activities reached large proportions of the target population, with about one third of survey respondents reporting exposure to the FACE Alert or TV shows, radio, or articles with information on health and safety. More than half reported making changes as a result of input, and more than a quarter reported reducing or stopping use of lacquers.
  • The outreach's success was partly attributed to framing the advertisements for training in terms of quality and business advantages. Viet-AID marketed their training as "Making Your Floor Finishing Business More Profitable" based on an informal assessment of contractor's interests and received far more registrants as a result.
  • Perhaps most importantly, results demonstrate that voluntary measures such as product withdrawal by some vendors or educational initiatives were insufficient to halt the use of a hazardous and unnecessary product. Two thirds of respondents to the survey, administered before the legislative ban, reported using lacquer sealers for at least some jobs. This reflects the consensus among Task Force members that legislation was needed to enable businesses to refuse to sell or use a product that is temptingly cheap and convenient.


This initiative assessed and addressed the occupational health needs of low-income and immigrant communities in Dorchester, Massachusetts.


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