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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 and safety.

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 workplace conditions.

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 protection measures.

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 conditions.

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 recovered?

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 illnesses.

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 article.

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.


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?


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 time.

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 show.

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.

Listen to the telebriefing

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