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What's on Tap for NIOSH's Health Hazard Evaluation Program?

By Kay Bechtold

​For years, NIOSH’s Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Program has quietly churned out report after report detailing the findings of agency investigations of workplaces that requested assistance in learning whether workers are exposed to hazardous materials or harmful conditions on the job. From lead and noise exposures at an electronic scrap recycling facility to firefighters' dermal exposure to polycyclic hydrocarbons, the NIOSH HHE staff has helped a wide range of workplaces implement controls to prevent adverse effects of workplace health hazards.

The HHE Program has accomplished much in recent years. For example, one report on the high risk of carpal tunnel syndrome among poultry processing workers led to a new OSHA Regional Emphasis Program focused on reducing occupational injuries and illnesses at chicken processing facilities in the southeastern U.S. A health hazard evaluation of a coffee processing facility that revealed elevated levels of diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione in the air prompted evaluations of several other coffee processing facilities to further investigate work-related exposures to these chemicals. NIOSH staff have also worked with state and local health departments to identify opportunities for investigations in high priority areas such as occupational hazards in the electronic cigarette industry and exposures and working conditions for vulnerable workers in nail salons.

HHE reports published in 2016 include NIOSH’s evaluation of employees’ exposure to beryllium and other metals at a nanotechnology research and development company and an evaluation of four aircraft hangars intended to help the employer identify a sampling strategy and ventilation improvements for those spaces.

But what’s next? In the upcoming year, the HHE Program plans to:

  • issue 150 final HHE reports—30 more than last year
  • publish first findings on flame retardant exposures in the electronics recycling industry and flavoring chemical exposures in coffee processing
  • conduct medical and environmental evaluations at coffee processing facilities
  • start a new project to develop educational materials about musculoskeletal risks for Hispanic employers in the food service industry

In case you missed it: Rachel L. Bailey, DO, MPH, and Ryan F. LeBouf, PhD, CIH, of NIOSH discussed the agency’s work related to occupational exposure to diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione at coffee processing facilities in the April 2016 issue of The Synergist. The interview touches on what NIOSH hopes to learn from the ongoing health hazard evaluations at coffee processing facilities and future plans for agency research on flavorings-related lung disease.


Kay Bechtold is assistant editor of The Synergist. 

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