Volume 15, Number 10 (February 2018)
John Howard, M.D.
Proactively Addressing the Increased Use and Functions of Robotics in the Workplace
You have undoubtedly heard and read news about dramatic advancements in robotics technology and forecasts and debates on the potential impacts on our society and economy. While at times this may sound like science fiction, robot sales are at record highs, and new types of robots with increased sophistication are being developed and used in workplaces. I am pleased to report that NIOSH has established a virtual Center for Occupational Robotics Research that will specifically address the safety and health implications for worker safety and health.
New robotics applications are fundamentally different from earlier applications in which robots were designed to operate in isolation from workers, in robotic cells or cages. New classes of robots are being designed to work alongside, move among, and even be worn by human workers. Emerging robotics technologies include:
- Collaborative robots designed to work alongside and have coordinated tasks with human workers.
- Mobile robots that move alongside and in the same space as human workers.
- Wearable robotics designed to decrease physical loads on human workers (i.e., powered exoskeletons/exosuits).
- Remotely controlled and autonomous ground and aerial vehicles, such as tractors, rescue vehicles, commercial trucks, and drones.
The use of robots is expanding from primarily manufacturing industries to other sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, transportation, warehousing, services, public safety, construction, and mining.
These new technologies hold both promise and concerns for worker safety and well-being. The promise is that robots will increasingly be used to do work that is dangerous for human workers, including repetitive and physically demanding work and work in dangerous and hostile environments. Concerns are based on the rapid growth of this technology, a lack of experience and potential unforeseen hazards as these technologies are deployed in varied and uncontrolled work environments, and a recognition that new strategies and systems will need to be developed and tested to ensure the safety of human workers.
The Center’s mission is to provide scientific leadership to inform the development and use of occupational robots that enhance worker safety and health. The Center will work in partnership with academic researchers, trade associations, robotics manufacturers, employers using robotics technology, labor organizations, and other federal agencies to:
- Monitor trends in injuries associated with robotics technologies.
- Evaluate robotics technologies as sources of, and interventions for, workplace injuries and illnesses.
- Establish risk profiles of robotics workplaces.
- Identify research needs and conduct research to improve the safety, health, and well-being of humans working with robots and robotics technologies.
- Support the development and adoption of consensus safety standards.
- Develop and communicate best practices, guidance, and training for safe interactions between human workers and robots/robotics technology.
I encourage you to visit the Center’s website. It includes links to NIOSH’s seminal work on industrial robotics safety from the 1980s, recent scientific commentaries on trends in robotics and implications for worker safety, several NIOSH science blogs, and information on the Center’s first formal partnership, an AllianceExternal with OSHA and the Robotics Industries Association.
With new robotics technologies beginning to take off, we are at a critical juncture. It is important to proactively address worker safety and well-being now so that the promise of this technology for increased worker safety is realized.
- NIOSH Kicks Off New Expanding Research Partnerships Webinar Series
- NIOSH Announces Open Registration for Two Upcoming Conferences
- NEW Infographic—EMS Providers: How to Stay Safe on the Job
- NIOSH Obtains Accreditation for 12 Test Methods Associated with Air-purifying Respirator Testing
- New MMWRs Highlight NIOSH Research Studies
- In Memoriam: James (Jim) Melius
NIOSH is launching a new webinar series to continue the learning and discussions from the 2017 Expanding Research Partnerships: State of the Science ConferenceExternal on NIOSH research and partnerships. The 2018 webinar series will feature intramural and extramural research within the NIOSH Program Portfolio. Webinars will be held February 14, May 16, and November 14 from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET. You MUST pre-register via the website to attend. NIOSH looks forward to continuing the work on expanding research partnerships for the greatest impact in occupational safety and health.
- Registration is now openExternal for the 2nd International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health®. The deadline for early registration is March 31. Student and supplemental workshop registration rates are also available. The Symposium will be held May 8-11 on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, just minutes from Washington, DC. Join more than 500 scientists and practitioners from around the world to learn about the latest science and practice for Total Worker Health approaches.
- Registration is now openExternal for the 7th National Occupational Injury Research Symposium—NOIRS 2018. NOIRS is the only national forum focused on occupational injury research and will be held in Morgantown, West Virginia, at the Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place on October 16–18. The Symposium is hosted by NIOSH in partnership with the American Society of Safety Engineers, Board of Certified Safety Professionals, National Safety Council, Society for Advancement of Violence and Injury Research, West Virginia University School of Public Health, and Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.
Emergency medical service (EMS) providers are critical to public health and safety. They are also at high risk for injuries and exposures at work. This NIOSH infographic, co-branded with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, recommends ways EMS providers can protect themselves from injuries. Download the infographic.Cdc-pdf
NIOSH obtained ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation for 12 test methods associated with air-purifying respirator testing. ISO/IEC 17025 is an important standard for calibration and testing laboratories around the world. This is the first step toward complete ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation of the NIOSH respirator approval test procedures. Obtaining ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation demonstrates our continued emphasis on quality and ensures our testing results continue to be accurate and reliable. More information is available via the website.
Two of the January Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR) from CDC include research updates from NIOSH researchers.
- Frequent Exertion and Frequent Standing at Work, by Industry and Occupation Group—United States, 2015.
This study found that large differences exist in prevalence of frequent exertion at work and frequent standing at work among major industry and occupation groups. Nearly 40% of U.S. adult workers report both frequent exertion and frequent standing at work.
- Asthma Mortality Among Persons Aged 15–64 Years, by Industry and Occupation—United States, 1999–2016
This study found that among U.S. adults aged 15–64 years, 31,394 deaths from asthma occurred during 1999–2015, including approximately 6,600 (700 annually) that could be attributable to occupational exposures and were therefore potentially preventable. The elevated asthma mortality among workers in certain industries and occupations underscores the importance of optimal asthma management and identification and prevention or reduction of potential workplace exposures.
NIOSH is saddened by the death of former NIOSH researcher James (Jim) Melius. Jim joined NIOSH in 1980, where he directed the Health Hazards Evaluations and Technical Assistance Branch based in Cincinnati, Ohio. He then served as the director of the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies. Jim’s work provided many insights about work-related exposures to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were widely used as dielectric and coolant fluids in electrical apparatus, carbonless copy paper, and heat transfer fluids. He also contributed to the understanding of reproductive hazards in the workplace and the importance of indoor air quality to worker health and well-being. After leaving NIOSH, Jim became instrumental in establishing the first medical monitoring and treatment programs for those involved in the rescue, recovery, and clean-up efforts of the September 11 terrorist attacks. He also worked tirelessly to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which in 2015 went on to provide permanent funding for the World Trade Center Health Program. Read more about Jim’s work on the New York Times obituary pageExternal. Mt. Sinai is also hosting a commemoration of Jim’s life on Monday March 26, from 11:00am – 1:00pm in the Stern Auditorium, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Comment Now on New Draft NORA Agendas
Two draft National Occupational Research Agendas are currently available for public comment:
- The draft National Occupational Research Agenda for Agriculture, Forestry and FishingExternal is open for public comment until March 19.
- The draft National Occupational Research Agenda for ServicesExternal is open for public comment until March 30.
If you have any questions, contact the NORA coordinator.
NORA Respiratory Health Cross-sector Council Announces Upcoming Activities
The NORA Respiratory Health Cross-sector Council (RHCC) held a meeting in January to plan sessions on the topic of mixed occupational exposures and respiratory health for the 2018 and 2019 annual meetings of the American Thoracic Society and European Respiratory Society. Leaders and participants in the sessions were identified and invitations sent to RHCC and non-RHCC professionals to participate. Session leaders will continue to compose the sessions and prepare abstracts for submission to the two conferences. For more information, email Paul Henneberger.
American Academy of Nursing New Position Statement Advocates for Promotion of High-quality Sleep for Nurses
On January 11, the American Academy of Nursing released its position statement recommending policies and practices that promote adequate, high-quality sleep for nurses to help them provide excellent patient care around the clock as well as help nurses maintain their own health, safety, and sense of well-being. The statement cites the NIOSH online continuing education NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours as a resource that addresses this issue. The full statementExternal was published in the Academy’s journal, Nursing Outlook. NIOSH Research Health Scientist Claire Caruso was the lead author.
Connecticut Department of Public Health Holds Workshops on Opioid Abuse
The Connecticut Department of Public Health’s Occupational Health ProgramExternal held a series of full-day workshops with leaders from the business, labor, insurance, and medical communities focused on developing best practices for employers dealing with opioid abuse in their workforce. Key strategies include identifying workers engaged in or at risk for substance abuse, encouraging workers who need counseling or treatment to seek it, and providing the resources and support necessary to help employees recover and remain employed. More information about these workshops and how opioid abuse is affecting the workforce in Connecticut and nationally can be found on their websiteExternal.
An Illinois Occupational Surveillance Program Case Study
The Illinois Occupational Surveillance Program (IOSP)External was established in 2010 as the NIOSH State-based Surveillance Program with the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) serving as the agent of the state health department. The IOSP has developed a network of state agencies, nonprofits, and community-based organizations to prevent work-related illnesses and injuries in Illinois. The value of the network was recently demonstrated when IOSP was contacted by the Chicago Department of Health childhood lead manager about a worker who became lead-intoxicated while doing abrasive blasting. IOSP spoke to the worker and discussed the case with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and a clinical toxicology specialist. The worker, who had a blood lead level of 147 mcg/dl, required several courses of chelation therapy. An OSHA investigation of the worksite, attended by a UIC student, yielded a serious citation of the employer. IOSP is working with personnel at IDPH to write up the case for publication and is developing a case study for public health students. The IOSP network fostered a multipronged approach to prevention and education of the current and upcoming public health workforce.
The Southwest Ag Center Responds to Hurricane Harvey
After Hurricane Harvey the Southwest Ag Center purchased personal protective equipment including gloves, goggles, dust masks, insect repellent, and hand sanitizer to protect the health and safety of rural residents as they engage in flood recovery efforts. In early October, large packages of resources were delivered to agricultural extension agents and the U.S. Coast Guard. The Southwest Ag Center will continue to monitor the recovery efforts, especially for rural and agricultural workers.
Potential Herbicide Exposure at a National Park
Finding evidence of herbicide contamination on employees’ boots, clothing, and in work areas, HHE Program investigators determined that skin contact was the main route of exposure. Program investigators recommended improvements in training and developing written site-specific policies and procedures for herbicide handling, including proper glove selection and use. For more information click hereExternal.
Evaluation of Lead Exposures at a Federal Law Enforcement Firing Range
Finding lead in the air, in employees’ blood, and on firearms instructors’ hands and footwear, HHE Program investigators recommended improving the ventilation system according to NIOSH recommendations, starting a lead monitoring program, using wet cleaning methods, and providing facilities for employees to keep work clothes on-site. For more information click hereExternal.
- Healthcare Personnel Working with Flu-like Illness
- Help Us Redesign the NIOSH Pocket Guide
- Frequent Exertion and Frequent Standing Among U.S. Workers
- The Most Popular NIOSH Content from 2017
- Spirometry Training Video Release
- Non-occupational Uses of Respiratory Protection—What Public Health Organizations and Users Need to Know
- Understanding the Economic Benefit Associated with NIOSH Research and Services: A New Analysis of NIOSH Impact by RAND
Mobile Proximity Initial User Feedback
The noticeExternal was posted on January 8. Comments are due within 30 days of this notice.
A Performance Test Protocol for Closed System Transfer Devices Used During Pharmacy Compounding and Administration of Hazardous Drugs: Extension of Comment Period
The noticeExternal was posted on July 26, 2017. Comment period extended to February 28.
Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health (ABRWH or the Advisory Board), NIOSH
The noticeExternal was posted on January 26. A public meeting will be held on March 13, 10:30 am to 4:30 pm EDT.
Draft National Occupational Research Agenda for Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing
The noticeExternal was posted on January 17. Comments are due March 19.
Fatigued Driving among Oil and Gas Extraction workers: Risks and Interventions
The noticeExternal was posted on January 26. Comments are due by March 27.
Draft-National Occupational Research Agenda for Services
The noticeExternal was posted January 29. Comments are due by March 30.
Law Enforcement Officer Motor Vehicle Crash and Struck-by Fatality Investigations
The noticeExternal was posted on January 17. Comments are due by April 17. A public meeting will be held on Tuesday, February 27 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET.
World Trade Center Health Program; Request for Nominations of Scientific Peer Reviewers of Proposed Additions to the List of WTC-related Health Condition
The noticeExternal was posted on March 22,2017. Nominations must be postmarked or submitted electronically by February 1, 2019.
National Occupational Injury Research Symposium (NOIRS)External
Deadline for abstract and session submissions is March 2.
19th Conference of the International Society for Respiratory ProtectionExternal
Deadline for papers and posters submission is March 15.
Kentucky Conference on Health CommunicationExternal
April 12–14, Lexington, KY
2nd International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health®External
May 8–11, Bethesda, MD
Fifth International Fishing Industry Safety and Health Conference (IFISH 5)External
June 10–13, St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
19th Conference of the International Society for Respiratory ProtectionExternal
September 15–20, Denver, CO
National Occupational Injury Research Symposium 2018
October 16–18, Morgantown, WV
A comprehensive list of upcoming conferences is available on the NIOSH website.
In 2009, NIOSH released interim recommendations for screening workers potentially exposed to engineered nanoparticles. Concern about the possible health effects of work-related exposure to the unique, minute materials, especially via inhalation, led to the interim recommendations. More information is available in the Current Intelligence Bulletin 60: Interim Guidance for Medical Screening and Hazard Surveillance for Workers Potentially Exposed to Engineered Nanoparticles.