Thursday, April 21, 2016

Northwest Center Researchers focus on Occupational Health among Veterinary Workers

A recent article in the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association highlighted a recent study on mental health risk factors for professionals working in the veterinary field. This risk factors study found that mental health and well-being issues run high among veterinary professionals, and risk factors for depression and suicide are prevalent.

Dr. Heather Fowler
Photo: University of Washington
Following these findings, Dr. Peter Rabinowitz and Dr. Heather Fowler, of DEOHS's Center for One Health Research, reached out to the principle investigators with an interest in addressing mental health issues among veterinary workers through an occupational health approach.

Through the new Northwest Center ERC training program in Occupational Health at the Human-Animal Interface (OHHAI), the Center for One Health Research will focus on the occupational health of animal and veterinary workers.

They plan to implement research that would incorporate mental health into occupational health outcomes, and encourage greater interdisciplinary collaboration on this issue. Dr. Rabinowitz hypothesizes that increased collaboration and communication between human health workers and animal workers may be essential to achieving better mental health outcomes for veterinary workers and students.

Drs. Rabinowitz and Fowler will look at professional burnout, compassion fatigue, and stress from animal euthanasia, along with other factors as they work to understand mental health outcomes for veterinary professionals.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Treating Patients with Highly Contagious Infectious Diseases: Using Technology to Advance Safety

On April 6, 2016 the Northwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety hosted a course designed to increase healthcare worker safety when treating patients with highly contagious infectious diseases such as Ebola. Course participants learned about tactics used by Harborview Medical Center during the last outbreak and explored new training technologies that can help to better prepare employees for hazardous situations.

Participants had the chance to experience 3 workshops, during which they experienced different training tools designed to help healthcare workers do their jobs effectively and safely.

 In the first workshop participants worked with Dmitri Bouinov, CEO of Context VR, to explore how virtual reality technology could be used in a healthcare training setting. A sample Google Glasses VR experience was created in which participants had to look around the room for objects they needed in order to treat an infected patient. Participants were presented with questions and could walk around the space viewing more information as they clicked on items.

The course participants also had a chance to put on a full VR helmet and perform surgery on an alien. While not related to the course content, this fully immersive VR experience gave participants the chance to imagine how the technology could be used in a healthcare training setting.

In the VR workshop course attendees learned that nearly anything can be designed into a virtual reality environment. They were also excited to learn that individuals in different geographical locations can work together in the same virtual environment, allowing for collaboration between professionals at different hospitals across the world.

 In the second workshop participants donned full PPE and entered a simulation lab where they practiced high risk procedures on specially designed mannequins. They practiced intubation, rectal tube placement, and IV insertion and were faced with simulated bodily fluids and other hazards. Simulation training allows for healthcare workers to get as hands-on as possible and practice different scenarios they might encounter when treating a real patient. Participants learned one the greatest values of simulation training is the ability to de-brief and watch the simulated procedures back. This kind of de-briefing allows workers to identify where they went wrong and where they could have been harmfully exposed had they been treating a real patient.

The third workshop focused on team communication through a program called Team STEPPS, developed by the WAMMI Institute for Simulation in Healthcare (WISH). Team STEPPS teaches individuals the importance of communication and organization in high stress, high hazard situations. Teams completed stressful tasks together and learned about techniques for improving their outcomes through communication, assignment of roles, and cooperation.

Northwest Center ERC Trainee Kali Turner, MPH Student with the Center for One Health Research, attended the course and was excited to share her experience:

"As a first year MPH student in DEOHS with a background unrelated to public health, but an interest in infectious disease and prevention, this was a perfect opportunity to learn in an interdisciplinary setting. I learned about the challenges and next steps regarding the Ebola response at the international and local level, including improving training through virtual reality and practice. I hope to continue learning about response efforts and prevention for all disasters, including infectious disease outbreaks throughout my time at UW and hope to apply these techniques in a future career. I really enjoyed the diverse presentations and now appreciate the effort it takes to don full PPE for multiple hours in a high pressure situation; it's much harder than it looks!"

*Resources from this course, including lecture recordings, will be available in the near future. Please check back here or visit for updates.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

"A Day's Work" - the Dangers of Temporary Work

Recently, the Northwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety and the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences joined with the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies to sponsor the Seattle premier of the film "A Day's Work" and a panel discussion on the dangers of temporary work. "A Day's Work" focuses on the story of Day Davis, a temporary worker at the Bacardi factory in Florida who lost his life 90 minutes into his very first shift.

Event attendee opinion piece:

I've been working in occupational health and safety for a while now, I've never formally studied it, I didn't even get in to the field "on purpose", but now that I'm here, and I'm living it, and I'm seeing the impacts every day..."wow" I say to myself, this work we're doing is so important. 

As somebody who works in occupational health and safety this film immediately caught my eye. A worker died 90 minutes into his shift on his very first job. "Where was his safety training?" I thought to myself, "Where was his supervisor? Why was a brand new worker immediately assigned to a dangerous position?" So many questions came into my head, "how are we still allowing these incidents to happen in America?"

Although I've worked in health and safety for a while, I didn't know much about the temporary work industry before watching this film. They're invisible in the typical picture of American industry, they hide in the shadows providing poorly trained and desperate workers to big companies with dangerous factories and big bottom lines. They disappear when their "product" gets damaged or destroyed, leaving families with their livelihood diminished and the host workplaces with little more than a hand slap. Nobody seems to regulate the training given to these employees, and nobody takes responsibility for their safety. These workers are treated like a product for getting the job done at a low cost with little to no liability. If a worker gets hurt or killed, "Who cares? Just get a new one".  The workplace where the incident occurred doesn't owe that worker or their family a thing, the temp agency was that person's employer and they're nowhere to be found or playing a "he said, she said" game.

Before the big rise of the temp industry, investing in safety was a win-win for employers and employees. Now temporary agencies have taken on the roles of employers, leaving big companies with little financial incentive to invest in safety. The host companies are not financially responsible if a temporary worker is injured, so why spend the money to train them? As health and safety workers this is the biggest hurdle we have to overcome - how do we convince big businesses that safety is still important when it is no longer feeding their profits?

As I was watching the film several things stood out to me. The first, Day Davis was killed doing a job he wasn't hired for. He hadn't been trained to work around the heavy machinery, in fact his only training was a 15 minute orientation before the start of his shift. When a machine malfunctioned and created a mess the supervisor said "get me a temp to clean it up". In the Bacardi factory, like many others, the temporary workers were treated like second class citizens, and the supervisor didn't see it as his job to check on what Day had been trained for or watch out for his safety - after all he wasn't a "real" employee.

The second, was a statement made by Day's younger sister Antonia. While talking about what happened to her brother she said "It just doesn't add up." Antonia states that in life you are trained on how to drive, you're trained on how budget your money, and how to care for your house - nobody expects you to come into life knowing these things, "so why can't you be trained on how to do your job safely?" These are such wise words from a 17 year old. You wouldn't let a bank teller work without being trained on handling money, you wouldn't let a fire fighter enter a burning building without being trained on fire safety, so why are companies so willing to let temporary workers enter a factory with essentially zero safety training? The answer: safety no longer pays in an economy where temp agencies are allowed to be legal employers.

When OSHA was established the United States Government declared that all workers in America have a right to go home at the end of the day. With the rise of the temporary work industry, and the loopholes created by temporary staffing agencies taking on the roles of employers, this right is no longer being protected for many Americans. So the question I left this experience with was, "what can we as health and safety professionals do to restore this right?" It is a very hard question to answer, but it is one that must come to the forefront as we move into the future of occupational health and safety.

*All photos featured in this blog post are the property of the Temp Worker Film.
**All views and opinions expressed in this blog post belong to the individual who contributed the post and do not necessarily represent the Northwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety, The Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, The School of Public Health, or the University of Washington.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

New Frontiers in Construction

Since ​2011, ​The ​University ​of ​Washington’s ​Center ​for ​Education ​and ​Research ​in ​Construction ​(CERC) ​has ​created ​a ​venue ​to ​highlight ​research ​and ​its ​relevance ​for ​pressing ​issues ​facing ​the ​Construction ​industry through the New Frontiers in Construction Conference. CERC ​and ​their partners demonstrate ​the ​application ​and ​benefits ​of ​applied ​research, ​and participants ​receive ​timely ​information ​that ​can ​be ​put ​into ​practice ​right ​when ​they ​return ​to ​the ​office.

This year's event, held on March 4, 2016, drew a large crowd all interested in learning about innovative research that can increase safety, health, and productivity for the construction industry. Topics this year included:

• ​Safety ​& ​Health, specifically exposure, on construction sites - presented by the Northwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety

• ​Project ​Delivery ​& ​Management 

• ​ ​Virtual ​Design ​& ​Construction​ (i.e., ​Asset ​information ​exchange, ​BIM ​in ​Operations, ​BIM ​for ​Design ​and ​Construction ​of ​Data ​Centers) 

• ​ ​Lean ​Construction ​(i.e. ​Integrated ​Project ​Delivery, ​Contracting ​for ​Lean ​Delivery, ​and ​agent-based ​modeling) 

• ​ ​Sustainability ​in ​Construction ​

• ​ ​Infrastructure ​Development ​

Chris Mak, a Northwest Center ERC Trainee, presented during the poster session at the conference. Chris is pursing an MS in the new Construction Management Occupational Safety and Health (CMOSH) program. CMOSH is an exciting new track within the Master of Sciences in Construction Management degree program at UW. The track aims to produce future construction leaders who will have the knowledge and skills to integrate project management and occupational health and safety for true project success. Learn more about the CMOSH program, and other ERC programs here.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The 2016 Tribal Green Summit

The 2016 Tribal Green Summit was held on March 8-9, 2016 at the Snoqualmie Casino in Snoqualmie, Washington. The Snoqualmie tribe hosted the event, which was sponsored by EPA. The conference aimed to bring together tribal members, and "green" professionals to talk about how greener chemistry, green building, and renewable energy technology can be utilized by tribes. Attendees listen to two days of talks on new ideas and technology, and "green successes" in building on reservations and tribal lands.

Jill Tepe, Continuing Education Coordinator for the Northwest Center, spoke to conference attendees about DEOHS's efforts in green chemistry and sustainability as well as outreach activities and resources available through the department. Jill informed attendees about the Green Labs Project, which brought sustainable practices such as materials substitutions and recycling to all 20 DEOHS labs. She also spoke about the NIEHS Worker Training Program, which offers career training to youth in underserved communities who are interested in pursuing environmental careers and the UW STAC-TEC (Sustainable Technologies, Alternate Chemistry-Training and Ed Center) and MoDRN (Molecular Design Research Network) initiatives. Jill presented her talk in conjunction with representatives from Northwest Green Chemistry and the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Network who spoke on selecting greener materials for building, and green cleaning products.
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