Minority Occupational Health



1:00 p.m., RT 234

Vincent R. Nathan, Ph.D., M.P.H.


The session will define the concept of special populations in occupational health, explore the nature of risks they face, and review the state of current knowledge.

Define the population/review what features make it "special"

Review available data on the occupational health status of the population, including

- hazards faced,

- morbidity/mortality,

- special needs,

- role of Federal government, and

- identify major gaps in knowledge, and offer recommendations on research needs.


Given the above, I will:

- emphasize NIOSH/NORA and OSHA activities,

- establish research needs,

- identify data/knowledge gaps, and

- develop recommendations.



America’s population is projected to be 275 million by the year 2000. Of those, 71 percent of the population being white, 12.8 percent African American, 11.3 percent Hispanic, 0.9 percent Native American/Alaska Native, and 4.4 percent Asian or Pacific Islander (U.S. Census 1996). Research indicates that minority populations face disproportionate risk from workplace as well as environmental hazards. Studies that have explored issues related to environmental justice have found that minority populations are concentrated in the most hazardous jobs and polluted workplaces and ambient environments. Other data have documented significant disparities between health status of minorities and the general population. Various factors may explain these differences, including greater exposures to hazards, diet, poorer access to health care, less aggressive medical treatment, and stressors such as low income, lack of education, substandard living conditions, and to a lesser extent genetic predisposition. All of these factors make minorities more vulnerable to occupational injury and illnesses than the general population.

Certain occupational diseases appear to have a greater impact in minority populations. Lung cancer incidence is about 50% higher in black males than in white males, although women of both races experience similar incidence rates. Mortality from lung cancer is 61% higher in black men than white men, and 13% higher in black women. (Kosary et al, 1995). Since this disparity is not completely explained by smoking habits, (African Americans start later and smoke fewer cigarettes compared with whites), occupational, environmental, dietary, and genetic differences need to be examined. Asthma prevalence is also higher in blacks than in whites (122 per 1,000 in blacks and 104 per 1,000 in whites) and asthma mortality is three times higher (CDC 1995). Hypertension, diabetes, and some respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis and mycobacterium infections are also more likely to affect black workers, possibly because of increased susceptibility.

Minority workers also suffer disproportionately from fatal work injuries. Data from NIOSH’s National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities database show that, while greater disparity existed during the 1980's (6.5 per 100,000 African Americans compared to 5.8 white workers), African Americans in the later part of the decade still had higher rates of deaths on the job than whites (5.4 per 100,000 compared to 4.8) (Stout et al, 1996). For homicide, one of the leading causes of workplace deaths, workers in the "other races" category had 1.6 homicides per 100,000 workers, African Americans had 1.4, and whites had 0.6.



Vincent R. Nathan, Ph.D., M.P.H.


Dr. Nathan’s areas of specialization include environmental toxicology and occupational and environmental health. Dr. Nathan has participated in local, regional, and national occupational and environmental health research and regulatory compliance and policy projects. He currently serves as minority health program manager in the Office of Urban Affairs, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and adjunct professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.


He was formerly a senior fellow for minority health research for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr. Nathan also was a visiting scholar in residence at Morehouse School of Medicine. He is a former fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, serving as Senior Scientist in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. and former fellow in the King/Chavez/Parks Faculty Program at Michigan State University.