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Volume 17, Number 10 (February 2020)

From the Director’s Desk

John Howard, M.D.
Director, NIOSH

Partnerships Support Continued Progress in Robotics

There is no question that the presence of robots at work are becoming more prevalent with each passing year. Likewise, the capabilities of robots are increasing. Robots in the workplace can perform hazardous tasks traditionally performed by human workers and are now designed to work in close proximity with workers, or even be worn by workers. Partnerships are critical to understanding the rapid advances in robotics technologies. To stay abreast of these advances and leverage our expertise, NIOSH is partnering with several organizations. Some of our partnerships are highlighted below.

NIOSH has a longstanding partnership with the National Safety Council (NSC). As part of this partnership, NIOSH is participating in the NSC Work to Zero Initiative, which seeks to eliminate deaths on the job through the use of emerging technology. Research, education, and partnerships are critical elements of this initiative. NSC will host a Work to Zero Summit later this month to address the state of safety technology.

NIOSH is also partnering with the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make funding available to study the use of robotics in the workplace, specifically for research on collaborative robots or co-robots. Co-robots work with people or other robots to accomplish a goal. NIOSH is interested in research to ensure the safety, health and well-being of humans working with these new types of robots. I encourage you to learn more about this funding opportunity. The window to submit proposals is February 12–26, so there is still time to apply!

NIOSH joined the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute (ARM), a public-private partnership, last year. ARM is a national membership-based consortium in robotics and workforce innovation and has more than 220 member organizations spanning industry, academia, nonprofit, and government. ARM is focused on the use of robotics technologies in manufacturing. As such, NIOSH will contribute its perspective on issues related to worker safety and research needs for advancing industrial applications.

NIOSH is partnering with North Carolina State University (NC State) through the Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) to provide NIOSH staff with the opportunity to collaborate on research efforts that advance our understanding of robots and worker safety. This partnership also offers an opportunity for NC State ISE students to garner experiential learning at NIOSH, which ultimately supports preparing the next generation of occupational safety and health professionals.

NIOSH recently renewed its partnership agreement with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Japan (JNIOSH). Occupational robotics safety research has been identified as an area of mutual interest. Japan deploys more robotics technologies than the United States, so a partnership with JNIOSH allows NIOSH to learn from the Japan experience and expertise.

Through an alliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Robotic Industries Association , NIOSH staff have received training on current strategies for keeping human workers safe when working with collaborative robots. The alliance is also updating OSHA guidance on working safely with robots that includes collaborative robot applications.

Together, we can make great progress in robotics that will help to keep our workforce safe. To learn more about our work on robotics, I encourage you to visit our Center for Occupational Robotics Research.

Research Rounds
Inside NIOSH:
Ambulance Ventilation Reduces, but Does Not Eliminate, Airborne Germs

Safe ambulance design can help protect emergency medical services (EMS) workers from infectious exposure while transporting patients. A critical part of safe design is the ventilation system. During an epidemic of a respiratory illness such as influenza or SARS, when many patients likely would need transportation to the hospital, a good ventilation system can help keep EMS workers well.

Few studies, however, have looked at how effective ambulance ventilation systems are at reducing or eliminating airborne germs. Addressing this issue, NIOSH investigators recently measured the concentration of airborne germs in various locations within an ambulance’s patient treatment compartment. Placing a mechanical device that simulates a coughing patient on a cot, they tested the air with the ventilation system set at three different settings, or air changes per hour, with the cot set at three different angles. For each test, the investigators measured the concentration of germs in the air for 15 minutes.

The ambulance ventilation system reduced airborne germs but did not completely eliminate them, according to the paper published in Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. The greatest reduction occurred with higher air changes per hour. Specifically, an increase from 0 to 5 led to a 34% drop in airborne germs, while an increase from 0 to 12 led to a 68% drop. In contrast, changing the cot angle had only a slight effect on the concentration of airborne germs. Similarly, sample location did not have a strong effect, with comparable concentrations measured throughout the ambulance, even directly near the patient cot. These findings suggest that ambulance ventilation systems can be part of a comprehensive strategy to protect EMS workers and patients by reducing their exposure to airborne germs. At NIOSH, research in this area continues.

More information is available: NIOSH: Emergency Medical Services Workers

Outside NIOSH:
Hold the Phone: Increasing Physical Activity at Work

Call center workers are among the most sedentary, or inactive, workers in the United States. On average, call center workers spend a higher percentage of their time sitting than any other occupational group.

Although we know that an excessive amount of sedentary behavior is bad for our health, millions of U.S. workers spend a good part of their day sitting. Sedentary behavior is related to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  It is also associated with an increase in musculoskeletal (muscle and bone) injury.  Furthermore, sedentary behavior is linked to a greater risk of death from any cause. Previous research found that standing desks and walking workstations reduce back pain, musculoskeletal complaints, and overall sedentary time, which relates positively to improved mood, job satisfaction, and general well-being.

Now, NIOSH-funded researchers at the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, a Center of Excellence for Total Worker Health®, are evaluating interventions, both organizational and individual, to decrease sedentary work and improve health in call center workers. Organizational interventions include physical workplace alterations and changes in the way supervisors interact with employees. Individual interventions include changing employee health and safety behaviors via training, monthly safety and health activities, and active workstations.

Preliminary results from the self-reports of call center workers linked more musculoskeletal pain and lower life satisfaction to time spent sitting time at work. As the number of sedentary workers continues to rise in the United States, workers in other occupations and industries also could benefit from the findings of this research.

More information is available:

robotic hand shaking a human hand

Photo by ©Thinkstock.

NIOSH eNews is Brought to You By:

John Howard, M.D., Director
Christina Spring, Editor in Chief

Managing Editor
Tanya Headley

Section Editors
Anne Blank, Research Rounds
Kiana Harper, Monthly Features

Contributing Editors
Sarah Mitchell
Donjanea Williams

Copy Editor
Cheryl Hamilton

Technical Support
Steve Leonard, Technical Lead
Tonya White, Web Developer

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NIOSH Responds to Recommendations for Smarter Surveillance Systems
NIOSH recently released a document outlining its implementation plan to address the National Academies program evaluation recommendations for a smarter national surveillance system for occupational safety and health. The plan comes after NIOSH and partners requested the National Academies to conduct a study to address the need for a more coordinated, cost-effective approach for U.S. occupational safety and health surveillance.

New Training Available on Disaster-related Exposure Assessment and Monitoring
CDC is offering a four-day (32 hours) training course that provides knowledge and experience in assessing, monitoring, and tracking health effects among emergency responders and community members before, during, and after a disaster. The Disaster-related Exposure Assessment and Monitoring (DREAM) course dates are February 10–13 and March 23–26. Both courses will be held at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama. Learn more and register.

NIOSH Expands List of Work Issues Relevant to Worker Health
The NIOSH Total Worker Health® graphic, Issues Relevant to Advancing Worker Well-Being Using Total Worker Health Approaches, illustrates a wide-ranging list of issues that are relevant to advancing worker safety, health, and well-being. Revised in January 2020, this list reflects an expanded focus for Total Worker Health (TWH) that recognizes workplace and work issues such as innovative technologies, working conditions, and emerging forms of employment that present new risks for today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.

Artificial Intelligence Extramural Crowdsource Competition Update
Results from CDC’s first crowdsourcing competition using artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically read and classify worker injuries are in! This 5-week competition opened on October 17, 2019 and closed on November 21, 2019. During the competition period, 388 people from 26 countries registered to participate in the competition with 961 unique submissions. The first-place submission improved NIOSH’s ability to classify worker injuries from 82% accuracy to nearly 90% accuracy. The winning solutions are available on GitHub. For more information about this competition, contact Dr. Carlos Siordia at

NIOSH Partners to Advance 3D Printing Research
NIOSH announces a new partnership with America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, contributing to the innovative work of advancing knowledge and practice in additive manufacturing and 3D printing research. Learn more.

NIOSH Contributes to Special Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors Pub
NIOSH Industrial Engineer Dr. Brian Lowe served as guest editor of a recently-published special issue of Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors on occupational exoskeletons. He contributed to the introduction as well as authored the article, ASTM F48 Formation and Standards for Industrial Exoskeletons and Exosuits.

NIOSH Congratulates

NIOSH Director Elected to National Academy of Social Insurance
NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard is one of the 64 distinguished social insurance experts elected to the National Academy of Social Insurance. Those elected to membership in the Academy have distinguished themselves by improving the quality of research, administration, or policymaking in an area of social insurance. Members make significant contributions to the Academy’s research, education, and leadership development initiatives by volunteering their time on study panels, committees, at conferences, and in other Academy programs. Read the full press release.

NIOSH Director of Construction Receives Construction Safety Award
Dr. Christine Branche, NIOSH Principal Associate Director and Director of the Office of Construction Safety and Health was recently recognized as the 2019 National Association of Home Builders/Builders Mutual Insurance Company Safety Award For Excellence (SAFE) recipient of the Leadership In Construction Safety Award. This award, as chosen by past recipients of the Leadership In Construction Safety Award, recognizes the recipient’s vision, leadership, and commitment towards improving construction safety in the home building industry.

NIOSH Inventors Receive 2019 Excellence in Technology Transfer Award
NIOSH scientists received the 2019 Excellence in Technology Transfer Project of the Year from the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer Southeast Region for the project “Protecting Healthcare Workers by Detecting Contamination from Hazardous Antineoplastic Drugs.” The inventors Jerry Smith, Debbie Sammons, and Shirley Robertson developed a technology to detect three commonly used antineoplastic drugs. Read more.

NIOSH Scientist Wins Early Career Research Award
Dr. Imelda Wong received the Early Career Researcher Award for Practice from the 24th International Shift-work and Working Time Society Symposium for “significant contributions to the knowledge base available to practitioners involved in work scheduling and the related health and safety consequences.”

Monthly Features

Federal Register Notice

NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety Strategic Plan, 2020–2029

The notice was posted on December 16. Comments must be received by February 14.

Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health

The notice was posted on January 6. The meeting will be held on February 14 from 11 a.m.–1 p.m. (ET)

Request for Information on Toxicological and Physicochemical Data of Engineered Nanomaterials to Evaluate in Developing Categorical Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs)

The notice was posted on December 17. Comments must be received by February 18.

Research Project To Evaluate and Control Hazards to Landscaping and Grounds Management Workers; Request for Participants

The notice was posted on January 10. Letters of interest must be received by October 16.

National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA)

Learn About NORA in the Latest AIHA Synergist
The January issue of The Synergist, the magazine of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, featured two articles on NORA. The cover article focuses on the National Occupational Research Agenda for Hearing Loss Prevention, pointing out that in addition to setting research objectives for the nation, the Agenda is also valuable for its summaries of the latest in science on hearing loss. A second article describes the purpose of NORA and ways to participate. Industrial hygienists and others with an interest in occupational safety and health are welcome to be a part of NORA. Contact Emily Novicki for more information.

National Safety Stand Down to prevent falls in construction conference

Get Ready for the 2020 National Safety Stand-Down
Save the date for the 2020 National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction May 4–8, a cornerstone of the National Campaign to Prevent Falls in Construction. The National Safety Stand-Down raises fall hazard awareness across the country in an effort to stop fall fatalities and injuries. Follow #StandDown4Safety #StopFalls on social media for more information or contact Elizabeth Garza.

News from Our Partners

American Heart Association’s Symposium Features NIOSH-Supported TWH Center
The American Heart Association’s Wisconsin Workplace Health Symposium in March will feature speakers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Center for Healthy Work. UIC’s Elizabeth Fisher, CHES, and Christina Welter, DrPH, MPH, will give a keynote address on Improving Health for Workers in Precarious Jobs during this event. The symposium will also offer an interactive session called All in a Day’s Work, featuring a board game the Center developed with the American Heart Association. The UIC Center for Healthy Work is a NIOSH-funded Total Worker Health® Center of Excellence.

New Video Highlights Teachers Using Microfiber for Asthma Prevention
The California Department of Public Health’s Work-Related Asthma Prevention Program has a new video entitled Healthy Schools, One Cloth at a Time. This video describes how cleaning products, sanitizers, and disinfectants, including disinfectant wipes, can worsen or even cause asthma. Teachers share how using microfiber cloths in the classroom has decreased their chemical exposure and provide a simple, safe, and effective cleaning alternative. The video also covers California laws and regulations about using sanitizers and disinfectants in the classroom. The Work-Related Asthma Prevention Program is a part of the NIOSH-funded state surveillance programs.

New Report on Medical Waste and Emerging Infectious Diseases
The Maryland Department of Health Environmental Health Bureau—a NIOSH-funded state surveillance program—recently released a report from a 2017 workshop on Managing Highly Pathogenic Medical Waste: Finding a Way Forward. This document highlights challenges and opportunities for Maryland in addressing Category A infectious waste. It is particularly relevant for anyone interested in preparing for the possibility of highly pathogenic emerging infectious diseases in the hospital or community setting.

Latest News From NIOSH Construction Center
CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training recently released its monthly update. CPWR is the NIOSH-supported National Construction Center.

New NIOSH Funded Workplace Safety Curricula Available
HealthPartners Institute and instructors from Hennepin Technical College, St. Cloud Technical & Community College, and Ridgewater College collaborated on a NIOSH-funded research study called TECHS (Technical Education Curricula for Health and Safety) to develop and evaluate workplace safety curricula for collision repair and machine tool technology trades. Results from a study in Minnesota demonstrate that students and graduates with TECHS safety instruction know more about health and safety and work safer than their peers without TECHS instruction. The TECHS curricula and many other educational resources are available for free on the study website (

STEM Writing Contest for Students Age 13-19
The Learning Network and Science News have partnered together to open a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) writing contest for students ages 13–19. Students are to pick a STEM topic that they care about and write a 500 or fewer word essay. The essay should be written in plain language, explaining why the topic is important in an engaging manner for a general audience. For contest rules and entry information visit The New York Times.

Webinars, Conferences & Events

Call for Abstracts

National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing & Media
Deadline for submissions is February 13.

Call for Multimedia Submissions

International Media Festival for Prevention
Deadline for entries is February 29.


Artificial Intelligence in Government
March 19, 6–8 p.m., Washington D.C.


National Safety Council Work to Zero Summit
February 13–14, Bonita Springs, Florida

Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration Conference
February 23–26, Phoenix, Arizona

12th Annual Research Day Symposium
March 26, Westminster, Colorado

Toxicology and Risk Assessment Conference
April 20–23, Cincinnati, Ohio

30th Annual Art & Science of Health Promotion Conference
April 20–24, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

World Health Organization Health for All Film Festival
May 16–22, Geneva, Switzerland

7th International Conference on the History of Occupational and Environmental Health
May 27–29, Durban, South Africa

American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exposition
June 1–3, Atlanta, Georgia

National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing & Media
August 10–12, Atlanta, Georgia

XXII World Congress on Safety and Health at Work
October 4–7, Toronto, Canada

International Media Festival for Prevention
October 4–7, Toronto, Canada


NIOSH Education and Research Centers Industrial Hygiene Webinar Series 2020: Exposure to Viruses Among Healthcare Workers
February 11, 3:00-4:00pm (ET)
Contact Donjanea Williams with questions.