Environmental Factor, November 2009, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
WETP Grantees Look at Global Issues in Worker Safety
By Eddy Ball
At their annual fall workshop last month, NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program (WETP) grantees were treated to a forum on emerging developments in global health and safety that promise to have a major impact on worker training. As attendees learned during the meeting in Chapel Hill October 21-22, new developments in nanomaterials manufacturing, hazard communication and regulation of chemicals in the European Union could fundamentally influence workplace safety at home and abroad.
WETP Director Chip Hughes described the agenda as an engagement of "back-burner issues that are now becoming front-burner issues" in worker safety and health. He also said he looked forward to a meeting that would address the "two-way street" of interaction between American workers and workers worldwide, as he introduced the first speaker at the workshop, Division of Extramural Research and Training Acting Director Gwen Collman, Ph.D. In her survey of NIEHS global environmental health initiatives, Collman said she hoped to help the grantees better understand "how your work does dovetail with other programs" funded by NIEHS in an increasingly interconnected world.
Following Collman were two representatives from one of WETP's partner agencies, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) - Deputy Director for the program Margaret Kitt, M.D., and Director for the Education and Information Division Paul Schulte, Ph.D. They described what Schulte called "NIOSH's global view" as the Institute explores the future of worker safety. Schulte also introduced the topics of the first day's three panel discussions.
The first of the meeting's panel presentations expanded on the implications of the United Nations Globally Harmonized System (GHS)(http://www.osha.gov/as/opa/facts-hcs-ghs.html) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals and progress by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in bringing its current Hazard Communication Standard into alignment with the provisions of GHS. The new program requires manufacturers and importers to adopt a labeling protocol with a globally harmonized signal word, pictogram and a more extensive hazard statement for each hazard class and category. As GHS is implemented, the panelists concurred, it will influence the design of worker training programs.
The next panel addressed the increase of engineered nanomaterials in the workplace and potential hazards both in manufacturing and waste disposal, exploring the use of a method known as "control banding"(http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ctrlbanding/) as a transitional preventive protocol in manufacturing and materials handling. Industrial hygienists Rick Niemeir, Ph.D., of NIOSH and Sam Paik, of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, described procedures for implementing control measures, such as ventilation, for handling nanomaterials based on experiences with other materials with functional similarities along a range or "band" of hazards. Rice University Professor Kristen Kulinowski, Ph.D., discussed the program she oversees developing the curated-wiki GoodNanoGuide(http://www.goodnanoguide.org/tiki-index.php?page=HomePage) , a repository of up-to-date information about research on nanomaterials and good practices for handling these materials in the workplace.
In 2010, progressive implementation of what panelist Sean Mahar, of Euro Safety and Health, called "the largest bit of EHS legislation ever devised" begins in earnest with potential benefits for American workers. By the time the European Union mandate on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances (REACH)(http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/reach/reach_en.htm) is fully implemented in 2018, business with America's largest trading partner could change dramatically, with implications for the use of chemicals in the U.S. as well. Rather than regulators having to prove a hazard exists after a chemical is introduced, as is the practice in the U.S., REACH will mandate that manufacturers prove a chemical is safe before it can be sold or used in Europe, giving rise to the mantra "no data-no market."
The first day of the workshop concluded with roundtable discussions involving the panelists. When the workshop convened the next day for a different kind of panel presentation (see text box), the grantees were still far from mastering their challenges, but at least Hughes, the WETP staff and the workshop's expert panelists had helped them begin to ask some of the right questions.
Looking South - Awardee Experiences in Latin America
The final half day of the workshop on October 22 offered some elaboration on the "two-way street" theme from Hughes' opening remarks, as the concluding panel session highlighted health and safety activities outside the U.S. in conjunction with foreign partners.
WETP Education Specialist Ted Outwater moderated the session, offering grantees some context about the "grim situation" for worker health and safety in Latin America. There are some 60,000 workplace deaths each year in the region, he said, and as many as 80 percent of the workforce is exposed to hazardous conditions.
The session opened with a report by Ingrid Zubieta, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Mike Wright, of the United Steel Workers, on a collaborative occupational health research study at the Cananea Copper Mine in the Mexican state of Sonora. Zubieta presented a catalogue of health and safety violations that she illustrated with photographs from the mine and supported with data from physical examinations of miners and statistics on injuries and fatalities there. Wright, who has worked in a number of overseas sites, called for increased funding, saying that "the more NIEHS can facilitate it [these kinds of studies], the better."
Don Ellenberger, of CPWR-The Center for Construction Research and Training, reported on the growing number of Hispanics working in U.S. construction. Noting that "overseas is coming to our industry," he described an unusual take on worker training - a cooperative program with partners in Tijuana and Matamoros to build empathy and understanding among U.S. worker-safety trainers by letting them see firsthand why so many residents come north for work.
Closing out the session was Javier Saracho of the Universidad Metopolitana (UMET) in Puerto Rico. Saracho described the worker-training curriculum at UMET and the growing demand for Spanish-language training programs elsewhere in South and Central America. UMET has conducted OSHA and hazardous material training thus far in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru.