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Here’s What NIOSH’s Health Hazard Evaluation Accomplished in 2016

By Kay Bechtold

News and updates from some federal agencies slowed following the arrival of the new administration in January, but NIOSH’s Health Hazard Evaluation Program has remained active, publishing new reports of agency investigations of workplaces that requested assistance to determine whether workers are exposed to hazardous materials or harmful conditions on the job. From noise exposures during total knee replacement surgeries to occupational brake dust exposures at a hydroelectric dam, the NIOSH HHE staff continue to help a wide range of workplaces prevent adverse effects of workplace health hazards. The program recently shared its 2016 annual report (PDF​), which summarizes some of the agency’s newer projects and accomplishments.

Last year, NIOSH received 247 HHE requests, most of them from private-sector businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Agency staff conducted 40 site visits, covering 39 workplaces in 22 states. HHE reports were downloaded nearly 24,000 times, and NIOSH recorded more than 800 downloads of lead and noise databases. The agency generated 19 new HHE reports last year, including one on employees’ exposures in a manufacturing plant that makes natural and engineered stone countertops, where agency investigators found overexposures to respirable crystalline silica. The annual report also highlights an evaluation in which NIOSH staff identified overexposures to noise at a hammer forge company​ when the HHE Program responded to a union’s concerns regarding impact and continuous noise exposure, hearing loss, heat stress, and whole body vibration at the facility.

The efforts of NIOSH’s HHE Program extended beyond the continental U.S. to places like American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where four members of the team were deployed to help with CDC’s response to Zika in 2016.

“When public health professionals are deployed to field locations during emergencies, they are confronted with new health and safety challenges in addition to doing important work in high-stress situations,” says AIHA member Kendra Broadwater, CIH, an industrial hygienist with the HHE Program who deployed to Puerto Rico. “As the field safety officer, I supported CDC staff by orienting them to their temporary work location, providing important health and safety information and resources, and maintaining situational awareness.”

Douglas Wiegand, another HHE Program member, spent 29 days in the U.S. Virgin Islands supporting local Department of Health staff in gathering community members’ perspectives about the Zika virus and vector control strategies. The information was used to inform decision making regarding how best to protect the public from the virus.

Interested in learning more about NIOSH’s HHE Program? The agency makes it easy to find recently released reports and information about emerging hazards it’s evaluating. Keep track of what’s new in the HHE Program by visiting the NIOSH website or by following the HHE Program’s Facebook page or RSS feed​.

Related: An article published in the September 2016 Synergist discusses how to protect workers against the Zika virus and focuses on preventive measures that can be taken by organizations whose workers may be at risk.

In case you missed it: A few years ago, Broadwater was featured in NIOSH’s Women in Science video series​, which spotlights several of the agency’s female scientists. In the video, she discusses how her environmental health studies and research experience led to a meaningful career at NIOSH.


Kay Bechtold is assistant editor of The Synergist. ​

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