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CDC Telebriefing Transcript
Three Reports Illustrate the Importance of Reducing Workplace Injury
April 25, 2002
CDC MODERATOR: Thank you, Ron.
Today, we're joined by Dr. Kathleen Rest who's the acting director of CDC's
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and she will talk
about three reports that are published today in the weekly MMWR, and talk
about the importance of reducing workplace illness and injury. Dr. Rest.
DR. REST: Thank you very much and good morning, everyone. I am Dr. Rest,
Kathleen Rest, the acting director of NIOSH, the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health, and I'm really pleased to be with you today
to introduce this week's issue of MMWR, which is dedicated to worker health
Now, as many of you know, NIOSH was created in 1970 under the Occupational
Safety and Health Act. It's the institute within CDC that conducts research
and makes recommendations for protecting workers from injury, illness,
disability and death on the job.
Now in the 33 years since NIOSH came into being, this nation has really made
great progress in protecting the health and safety of workers.
Through the efforts of workers, employers, unions, government agencies,
safety and health professionals, both the number and the rate of fatal
workplace injuries has really decreased over the past two decades.
For example, one of our most recent reports analyzing long-term data, found
that the average annual rate for fatal worker injuries declined 42 percent
between 1980 and 1995, and the number of fatal injuries declined 28 percent
during that same time period.
Now despite these achievements and accomplishments, a lot remains to be
done. Men and women in this country still suffer preventable work-related
injuries and illnesses on a daily basis.
We know that every day, on average, 16 workers die from a job-related
injury. Another nine thousand suffer disabling injuries on the job, and
approximately 137 workers die from occupational illnesses. So, clearly, we
still need to make progress on many fronts.
For example, there are still a variety of persistent hazards that have been
around for decades, for a very long time, that continue to need attention,
including such things as lead exposure, noise, falls, silica, and a variety
of other traditional hazards.
There are many new challenges related to the rapidly-changing nature and
organization of work that we'll have to be poised to address, and, clearly,
there are new threats as evidenced by the tragic events of last fall, which
really highlighted the new and catastrophic risks posed to emergency
responders and other workers from acts of terrorism.
Now every year Worker Memorial Day reminds us of the need to continue our
efforts to safeguard the health and safety of our nation's workforce.
It also provides us an occasion to remember workers who died in workplace
catastrophes in the past year, such as the World Trade Center attack, or
smaller, singular tragedies that happen on a daily basis, to remember
workers that have suffered illnesses because of exposures to hazardous
substances at work, or who've been injured as a result of hazardous
Now this week's issue of MMWR is dedicated to occupational safety and health
in observance of Worker Memorial Day. There are three articles in this
week's issue that really help illustrate the challenges and the
accomplishments of safety and health research as an essential part of this
nation's occupational safety and health mission.
One article today describes a study in which workers at a Missouri popcorn
packaging plant were found to be at potential risk of a very serious lung
disease. NIOSH is now working with the company, with workers, with the state
health department to determine the scope of the risk and to evaluate
This article basically illustrates the value of research in identifying
previously unsuspected occupational illnesses and find better ways to
protect these workers.
A second article describes NIOSH's investigation of a respiratory illness in
an Ohio plant, linked with widely used metalworking fluids. This article
basically highlights the need for research to better understand and prevent
work-related illnesses that may affect very large numbers of workers because
of the hazard existing in very large numbers of workplaces.
And the third article describes NIOSH research to protect commercial pilots
in Alaska, whose risk of fatal injury has surpassed that of fishermen and
loggers in that state.
This research points to the ongoing need to find ways to protect workers in
high-risk occupations and industries, and in occupations with unique working
I really appreciate all of you joining us for this call, demonstrating your
interest in this work, disseminating information is really, you know, a
critical avenue for us in efforts to prevent work-related injury, illness,
and fatality, and you in the press are important partners in that effort.
So with that, I'll turn the session back over to the CDC moderator, and
thank you again for joining us today.
CDC MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Rest. Dr. Rest is available for questions,
and, in addition, we have the authors of each of the three reports. Dr.
Richard Kanwal, that's K-a-n-w-a-l, on the popcorn factory articles. Dr.
Douglas Trout on the--that's T-r-o-u-t--on the metalworking fluid article,
and Dr. Diana Bensyl, B-e-n-s-y-l, on the Alaska pilots.
Ron, questions in queue?
AT&T MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to ask a question,
please press the one on your touchtone phone. You will hear a tone
indicating you've been placed in queue, and you may remove yourself from
queue at any time by pressing the pound key.
If you are using a speaker-phone, please pick up your handset before
pressing the numbers.
Our first question will come from the line of Aaron McLamb [ph] with the
Associated Press. Please go ahead.
MR. : Yes; thank you. On the respiratory illness at the plant in Ohio, I was
wondering if you could tell us, maybe the town or the city in Ohio where
this happened, or possibly the name of the plant, and also, there were so
many workers who had some kind of respiratory illness, are there any of them
who are still suffering from any of that, or has everyone pretty well
DR. TROUT: Okay. This is Douglas Trout. I think it's okay. Basically, the
plant is in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and it's a TRW, Incorporated brake
manufacturing facility. As the article indicates, there are still a number
of people off work, or who have not returned to work as a result of their
They are being followed closely by their treating physicians, locally. The
article also indicates that no new newly symptomatic workers have been
identified since April of 2001.
So, in other words, some people have had fairly severe illnesses and are
still symptomatic from those illnesses, being followed by their physicians
and have not yet returned to work. Those numbers are actually in the
CDC MODERATOR: Next question.
AT&T MODERATOR: The next question will come from the line of Joyce Hedges
[ph] with BNA. Please go ahead.
MS. : Hi. Thanks. I was wondering if I could ask Dr. Rest about where the
agency is in the process of finding a permanent NIOSH director. Is
that--'cause you're the acting; right?
CDC MODERATOR: This conference--this is Jennifer Marcone, the moderator. The
conference is really about the three articles, and in commemoration of, you
know, Workers Day today--
MS. : Okay, I have another question then.
CDC MODERATOR: Okay.
MS. : The artificial butter ingredient animal study results, it mentions at
the end of the article, is that being forwarded to all the popcorn plants or
all plants that use that ingredient? I'm just wondering how NIOSH is sort
of, besides the press, disseminating this out?
DR. KANWAL: This is Dr. Rich Kanwal. We have tested a butter flavoring. We
don't know what the actual causative ingredient or ingredients are yet.
Those studies are planned and should happen very soon, but the actual
ingredients still are a question mark.
MS. : So what we can say is the animal tests that have been done were just,
were on the whole butter flavoring as opposed to individual components of
it? Is that what you're saying?
DR. KANWAL: Correct.
MS. : Okay; all right. And then studies of individual components are getting
started, you said, are underway?
DR. KANWAL: Yes.
MS. : Okay.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: If there are further questions, you may press the one at
this time. We do have a question from the line of Ann Kerns [ph] with The
Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.
MS. : Hi; thanks. I have a question also on the popcorn plant report. When
do you expect these studies on the, you know, the specific components to be
completed, and how likely is the research to result in some sort of
regulation, you know, as to what happens in these plants?
DR. KANWAL: It's hard to say exactly how long the studies will take. It
certainly could be months, if not longer. The animal studies have to be done
very carefully and they're labor-intensive and they generally take a lot of
Depending on what the studies show, you know, we would take the appropriate
action as far as warning companies, but until we know which ingredients have
any kind of effect in the animal studies, it's really premature to say, you
know, what we will say. I think we have to let you see what those studies
MS. : Okay, and if I can follow up. So, currently, what measures are being
taken in the plants to protect the workers? Are they still wearing
respirators? Are the ingredients being changed?
DR. KANWAL: The main method that we recommend is to minimize the exposure.
We think the exposure is the flavorings, and, to date, the company has taken
extensive measures to improve ventilation and do certain engineering
controls with the process, so that exposures are decreased, and they have
been decreased by several orders of magnitude.
Respirators are still being made available to workers, and a handful of
workers do use the respirators.
MS. : So it's up to them, whether they want to use it or not?
DR. KANWAL: Yes. Well, the mixers of the oil and flavorings are required to
wear respirators. Other workers have the option to wear them if they wish.
MS. : Okay, and this was widely reported back in the fall, so I assume we're
talking about this plant in Jasper that's owned by Gilster-Mary Lee
Corporation? Is that correct?
DR. KANWAL: Yes; that's correct.
MS. : Okay; thank you.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question?
AT&T MODERATOR: We have no further questions in queue.
CDC MODERATOR: All right. If there are no more questions, then this
concludes our call today. Thank you--
AT&T MODERATOR: One moment, please. We did get another question, a backup
from the line of Joyce Hedges with BNA.
MS. : I had to get my headset off there. I just wanted to ask one more
question also about the popcorn plant. Is it still four are awaiting lung
transplants? Because I came across something that said six. As far as
everybody knows, it's still four?
DR. KANWAL: As far as I know it's four but, you know, we don't necessarily
have all that information. We were aware of the eight initial cases, that
four of those workers had been on lung transplant lists, and, you know, that
means--and those workers--to date, nobody has gotten a transplant, and those
workers have stabilized, and none--it's my understanding that none have
required transplants. We don't know if that's going to change. But for
several of those workers, for years the have been stable, and have not
required a transplant.
MS. : I see. Okay; great. Thank you very much.
AT&T MODERATOR: Now we have no further questions in queue.
CDC MODERATOR: Okay. Well, Thank you very much for coming on the line. That
concludes our call for today.
AT&T MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. That does conclude your
call for today. Thank you very much for your participation and for using
AT&T executive teleconference. You may now disconnect.