Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-97-0137-3026, New York City Police Department, Police Communications Section, New York, New York.
On March 14, 1997, the Senior Safety Coordinator, District 37, American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), contacted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to request a health hazard evaluation (HHE) at the NYPD's 911 emergency call center in Brooklyn, New York, and at 1 Police Plaza, New York City. On March 27, 1997, the Safety Director, New York City Police Department, submitted an HHE request on behalf of NYPD management, also requesting an HHE at this location. Both management and union representatives were concerned that work within the 911 Call Center was highly stressful, that workers experienced high demands, potentially hostile interactions with the public, difficulty overcoming distressing call-related memories, increased tension and irritability, and chronic musculoskeletal discomfort because of improperly designed work stations. In response to this labor and management request, NIOSH personnel conducted a series of interviews with managers and employees at the 911 emergency call center at the 11 Metro Tech Building in Brooklyn, New York. Following these meetings, NIOSH personnel developed a study protocol to evaluate each of the concerns expressed in the HHE request and subsequently returned to the 911 emergency call center to carry out the evaluation. Participants completed a 200-item self-administered questionnaire designed to examine a range of work place stressors and health related outcomes (depression, anxiety, lost work days, musculoskeletal injury). Participants submitted saliva samples four times daily for 5 days to assess physiologic reactions to stress. In addition, a comprehensive area noise assessment consisting of octave band noise measurements was made at the active dispatch consoles and 911 operator telephone consoles. Of the estimated 970 on-duty 911 operators and police dispatchers, 607 participated in this study for a participation rate of 63%. Participants were predominately female (88%), had an average age of 38 years (range 21-73 years), and had worked for the city for an average of 10 years (range 1-34 years). One hundred ninety three workers (32%) reported experiencing symptoms that were consistent with major depression according to the Centers for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). Predictors of depressive symptoms in this work force included low supervisory social support, anxiety, low job satisfaction, greater than 6 months since last vacation, increasing age, lower levels of social contact, and increasing years working for the City. Symptoms consistent with anxiety were reported by 138 participants (22%), 68% of whom also had symptoms consistent with major depression. Predictors of anxiety were age, low job satisfaction, more than 6 months since last vacation, and increasing years worked for the City. The annual work absentee rate for participants in this study was approximately two times the rate reported by workers nationwide (New York workers 13.7 vs. 6.2 days nationally). Musculoskeletal symptoms were most commonly reported for the low back (53%), wrists (43%), upper back (40%), and shoulders (40%-43%). According to ANSI S12.2 Criteria for Evaluating Room Noise, ambient noise levels measured in the work area were found to be appropriate for moderately fair listening or just acceptable speech and telephone communication conditions. NIOSH investigators conclude that conditions at the New York City Police 911 Emergency Response Communications Center contributed to the increased reporting of depressive symptoms and that a health hazard does exist at this location. Recommendations have been made in this report to help improve conditions at this worksite.