Western States Division
The Western States Division (WSD) consists of NIOSH staff working at three offices located in the Western US to address a wide variety of occupational safety and health (OSH) issues and help establish and maintain OSH capacity. The offices are in Spokane, WA, Denver, CO and Anchorage, AK.
The Western US is experiencing rapid population growth and encompasses a broad range of working environments with a variety of workplace safety and health issues, including consistently high work-related fatality rates in some states. Workers in the Western states may face hazards and issues unique to their environment, including climate extremes, working at altitude, long distance commutes, remote locations and wildland forest fires.
WSD employs a diverse group of public health and safety scientists working together to reduce and eliminate workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Areas of expertise include industrial hygiene, epidemiology, engineering, occupational medicine and health communication.
The Division employs the public health intervention model for its research programs that includes robust collection and analysis of data, close collaboration with external partners to gain insight into the data, prioritization of prevention efforts for maximum impact, and development of tailored interventions designed to specifically to address the issues identified. These interventions adhere to the NIOSH research to practice philosophy that emphasizes quality, partnership, relevance, and impact.
WSD Research Areas
Oil and Gas Extraction Research –
The fatality rate for the on-shore oil and gas extraction industry is seven times that of general industry. These oil and gas workers face difficult and unique conditions, including extended work shifts, long transportation commutes to remote sites, and considerable use of heavy equipment. Significant risks also exist for exposures to compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, hydrocarbons, and respirable crystalline silica. WSD research identified extremely high worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica during hydraulic fracturing activities and was integral in identifying worker fatalities associated with hydrocarbon exposures during production tank operations. Current research focus areas include driver fatigue, a NIOSH-designed engineering control to reduce silica exposures, and enhanced surveillance of injuries and illness in this workforce.
Commercial Fishing Safety –
Commercial fishing is one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States with a fatality rate of 81 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2014 (compared to 3.4/100,000 on average in the US). WSD helped reduce the commercial fishing death rate in Alaska by 42% during 1990-2009. This program focuses on epidemiologic research, engineering interventions, policy engagement, and health communication initiatives. The program expanded its scope in 2007 to include all regions of the US in order to promote the same impact on other parts of the country as it had in Alaska. Major achievements include development of an E-stop for deck winches to reduce entanglement injuries, creation of a Hatch and Door Monitoring System to prevent vessel flooding, and influencing Coast Guard and fishing fleet policy changes based on epidemiologic research to address fleet-specific hazards. Current research includes development of winch guards for shrimp boats in the Gulf of Mexico, analysis of non-fatal injuries to commercial fishermen in Alaska and on the West Coast, and ongoing regional analysis of fatalities among commercial fishermen around the United States.
Aviation Safety –
Long term collaboration with external government and industry partners has reduced air taxi and commuter fatal crashes in Alaska by 53% since the 1990s and reduced controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) fatalities from 7 per year from 1990-1999 to 3 per year from 2000-2009. WSD is currently developing tools to help prevent fatigue in commercial pilots and aviation maintenance workers in Alaska.
Wildland Firefighting –
Between 2000 and 2013, almost 300 on-duty wildland firefighter (WFF) fatalities occurred. Common hazards faced on the fire line include burnovers/entrapments, heat-related illnesses and injuries, smoke inhalation, vehicle-related injuries (including aircraft), slips, trips, and falls. NIOSH, the U.S. Forest Service, and other partners are reviewing data surveillance systems to understand occupational hazards, personal protective equipment needs and effectiveness, exposures, and fatalities in WFFs.
State Occupational Safety and Health Support –
WSD works with many partners, including state and local public health departments, national public health associations, academic institutions and other federal agencies, to enhance the use of state-level public health surveillance data to prevent occupational illnesses, injuries, and hazards. NIOSH, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) and the Mountain and Plains Education and Research Center (MAP ERC) cohost an annual Western States Occupational Network (WestON) meeting that brings together experienced and less-experienced state colleagues to foster networking and capacity building.
Climate Change –
The NIOSH Climate Change Initiative aims to protect workers from the adverse safety and health impacts of climate change. A wide range of workers across many industry sectors are expected to be impacted by climate change through increases in severe weather events, heat, wildland fires, UV radiation, air pollution, and biological hazards such as allergens and vector-borne disease. Workers may also face hazardous exposures in green industries, such as renewable energy production, green construction, and recycling. Initiative achievements have included increasing awareness of climate change as a worker safety and health issue. Future research priorities include: describing and quantifying workers affected by climate change; identifying and characterizing climate change related occupational hazards; and developing surveillance methods to identify emerging occupational safety and health issues associated with climate change.
American Indian, Alaska Native (AIAN) Populations –
American Indians and Alaska Natives are an understudied population, especially when it comes to workplace safety and health. Between 2003 and 2010, there were 292 AIAN workers killed on the job, an average of 37 fatalities per year. In 2013, NIOSH launched an American Indian, Alaska Native Initiative and NIOSH is now partnering with federal agencies, tribes and tribal-serving organizations to provide technical assistance, identify research priorities, sources of data for surveillance and research, and opportunities for collaboration.
The ocean environment presents many challenges to those who must protect the safety and health of maritime workers. The NIOSH Center for Maritime Safety and Health Studies (CMSHS) promotes safety and health for this high-risk worker population by coordinating research and intervention studies across NIOSH. CMSHS is a “virtual center” managed by the Western States Division, serving as a hub for intramural researchers to work together on various projects. It also serves as a focus for building research partnerships with stakeholders throughout the U.S. and the world.