NORA Symposium 2006: Research Makes a Difference! April 18-26, 2006, Washington, DC. Washington, DC: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2006 Apr; :336-337
Exposure to beryllium and its compounds can lead to immunological sensitization of beryllium industry employees, which is identified by the blood beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test. Cross-sectional screening of current workers in the primary beryllium industry documents sensitization rates of up to 10%, and longitudinal follow-up of worker cohorts, including former workers, documents up to 20% cumulative prevalence over 10-12 years. Sensitized workers are at high risk for chronic beryllium disease (CBD), and cross-sectionally, 10-100% of sensitized workers have beryllium disease at the time sensitization is identified, while others remain at high risk for future diagnosis of disease. We have estimated that there are more than 130,000 current U.S. workers and perhaps more than 1 million people who have ever been exposed beryllium may be at risk of CBD. Since 1998, NIOSH and the largest US producer of beryllium and beryllium-containing products have had a Memorandum of Understanding to conduct beryllium-related research. These research program efforts have included cross-sectional and longitudinal epidemiologic investigations of beryllium sensitization and chronic beryllium disease among the company's workers, and comprehensive industrial hygiene research. The Beryllium Research Program at NIOSH also includes a genetic component where participation is offered separately, but the employees that participate have access to their own results if they request them and to NIOSH's overall conclusions. The company has been using research results on process-related-risk, exposure-response relations, physicochemical characterization of beryllium particles, and potential multiple exposure pathways to effect changes in the workplace, which preliminary observations suggest may be resulting in reduced rates of sensitization. The research partnership also includes several communications components, among them an annual worker-focused meeting, bi-monthly research meetings, presentations to employees at the worksites, and newsletters. The annual meeting is attended by company employees from the three main facilities, company management and research staff, NIOSH researchers, and other interested parties who have included DOE, OSHA, union members, and other manufacturing concerns. The primary purpose of this meeting is to facilitate an open exchange of information between researchers and company employees. Researchers convey the latest study results to the employees, who subsequently communicate these findings to their fellow employees, both formally and informally. Employees present what they learned from the previous year's meeting, as they have presented it to their co-workers, along with the changes that they have made in their work practices, organization, and housekeeping. They also use this time as an opportunity to make researchers aware of the questions and concerns of their fellow employees. This company's employees have been empowered by management to address challenges in their work areas, including industrial hygiene sampling, using the company health and safety staff as consultants. Thus, NIOSH sees the needs for and results of our research in its practical translation in improved worker health and safety. This approach to conveying research results to those most directly affected and obtaining input and feedback directly from the plant floor has been effective in this manufacturing sector industry. This model could be successfully used in a wide variety of work environments.
NORA Symposium 2006: Research Makes a Difference! April 18-26, 2006, Washington, DC.