eNews: Volume 20, Number 9 (January 2023)

Volume 20, Number 9 (January 2023)

From the Director’s Desk

John Howard, M.D. Director, NIOSH

Understanding and Reducing Firefighter Cancer

Cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters. Studies show that firefighters may have a greater risk of some types of cancer than the general population. For Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, NIOSH encourages everyone to learn more about firefighters’ cancer risk and how to reduce it.

Firefighters’ greater risk of cancer is likely due to their exposure to smoke and hazardous chemicals on the fireground. Fire settings contain various hazardous substances, including

  • Combustion byproducts known or suspected to cause cancer
  • Persistent compounds that, if absorbed, can remain in the body for long periods
  • Particulate and other hazards released from burning materials or in fire debris

Firefighters can come into contact with these substances by being near burning materials or wearing dirty or improperly stored turnout gear.

Although we know firefighters are exposed to cancer-causing substances on the job and can have a greater risk of some cancers than the general population, questions remain. For example, many research studies have not included enough firefighters who are volunteers, female, or people of color to draw conclusions about their cancer risk.

To help answer these important questions, this year NIOSH will launch the National Firefighter Registry (NFR). The NFR is a voluntary registry of active and former firefighters with the goal of understanding and reducing cancer in the U.S. fire service. The NFR will collect firefighter health and work-related information and match that information with state cancer registries to support and advance our understanding of cancer in the fire service.

We are working diligently to make the enrollment process easy and secure for firefighters. Firefighters will enroll in the NFR via a secure web portal. Our NFR team has been pilot testing the web portal with firefighters and using the feedback to improve the enrollment process. We are looking forward to opening the web portal for enrollment to all firefighters soon.

When the NFR opens for enrollment, we encourage all U.S. firefighters, with or without cancer, no matter their length of service, to join. This includes active and retired firefighters; career, paid-on-call, and volunteer firefighters; structural firefighters; wildland firefighters; instructors; fire investigators; and other members of the fire service. The more firefighters who join the NFR, the more questions we will be able to answer, and the more evidence we can gather to support protocols and safeguards to protect the health and well-being of the nation’s fire service.

For more information about how the NFR will work, data collection and security matters, and to access materials to share with firefighters, visit the NFR website. Please send any questions or inquiries about the NFR to NFRegistry@cdc.gov.

Thank you to every member of the fire service for their unwavering commitment to protecting our communities.

Research Rounds

COVID-19 Mortality by Usual Occupation and Industry: 46 States and New York City, United States, 2020

Rachael M. Billock, CDC; Andrea L. Steege, NIOSH; and Arialdi Miniño, Division of Vital Statistics

Why is this study important?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the workplace emerged as a place of potential exposure to the virus. Certain workplaces, especially public-facing and crowded environments, have been shown to be more affected than others where mask wearing and physical distancing were easier to maintain, or where work could be done remotely. It is important to understand such patterns to be prepared for future surges of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

How did you do the study?

Using death records from the 2020 National Vital Statistics System, we estimated COVID-19 death rates per 100,000 workers by occupation and industry among workers 16–64 years old. In addition, we estimated the proportion of deaths caused by COVID-19 within an industry or occupation compared with the proportion of deaths from COVID-19 among all workers, 15–64 years old.

What did you find?

The highest rate of death from COVID-19 was in protective service occupations (public safety), at 60 deaths per 100,000 workers. For industry, the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths occurred in accommodation and food services with 55 deaths per 100,000 workers. The death rate in all workers combined was 28 per 100,000 workers.

The highest proportion of deaths from COVID-19 occurred in community and social services occupations, which was 59% higher than COVID-19 deaths among all workers. The proportions of COVID-19 deaths were also elevated in protective service (43% higher) and farming, fishing, and forestry (33% higher) occupations, as well as in other occupation and industry groups, compared to all workers.

What are the next steps?

Future research is needed to understand how different working conditions affect workplace exposure to COVID-19. For example, protective measures, such as mask-wearing and physical distancing, may be more difficult for workers in certain environments, such as food preparation and serving-related occupations.

High-Risk Electrical Tasks & Contributing Work Factors

Babak Memarian, CPWR; Sara B. Brooks, CPWR; Jean Christophe Le, CPWR; and Jerry E. Rivera, Washington, DC Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association

Why is this study important?

Electrical work is a dangerous job with many hazards, including electrocution. Preventing injury or death requires planning before beginning a potentially dangerous task. In this study, we identified high-risk electrical tasks and factors that increase the risk.

How did you do the study?

Our NIOSH-supported research team at CPWR-The Center for Construction Research and Training, in collaboration with 10 experts representing electrical contractors, unions, and trade associations, developed a data collection form aimed at identifying the electrical tasks that posed the highest risk for injury. Out of 18 electrical and general contracting companies that received the form, 14 responded. Based on these responses, we compiled a list of the most dangerous electrical tasks and factors that contributed to the risk of injury.

What did you find?

The study showed that 10 electrical tasks posed the greatest risk of injury to workers:

  • Demolishing or removing electrical equipment
  • Performing site work, layout, and logistics
  • Preparing ground for underground electrical installations
  • Working with pull cables and wires
  • Performing lockout/tagout (LOTO)—a procedure to ensure that equipment is shut off and cannot be restarted improperly
  • Operating trucks with boom lifts or standalone lifts
  • Producing openings for conduit and electrical lines
  • Installing new electrical equipment
  • Performing preventive maintenance on electrical equipment
  • Energizing electrical equipment

Within each of these high-risk electrical tasks, we identified numerous contributing factors. For example, factors that increase the risk of injury when installing new electrical equipment include tight workspaces, improper coordination of overhead work, and uncomfortable personal protective equipment.

What are the next steps?

The findings from this study can help inform additional, larger studies. A useful next step would be to develop an online system that contains task-specific information and proven controls to lessen hazards. Electrical companies, especially smaller ones with fewer resources, could use this online system when planning tasks.

Firefighter protection gear on the fire truck bumper

Photo by ©Getty images

NIOSH eNews is Brought to You By:

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

Managing Editor
Tanya Headley

Section Editor
Anne Blank, Research Rounds
Kiana Harper, Highlights & Monthly Features

Contributing Editors
Sarah Mitchell

Copy Editor
Cheryl Hamilton

Technical Support
Steve Leonard, Technical Lead
Steven Marra, Web Developer

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The word Brrr written in the snow.

Working in the Cold Resources
December 21 marked the first day of winter. Are you prepared for working in cold? We’re here to help! Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (mobile), and LinkedIn all winter long for tips to keep you safe while #WorkingInCold.

New Report: How OSH Can Incorporate a Wider View to Prepare for the Future
Expanding the Focus of Occupational Safety and Health: Lessons From a Series of Linked Scientific Meetings is a new NIOSH coauthored report that discusses how OSH can enhance worker well-being and better prepare for the future of work. The paper was produced through a partnership between NIOSH and the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Texas School of Public Health. Please contact the NIOSH Office of Research Integration with questions or for additional information.

Register Today for the Next Foresight Friday @ NIOSH Webinar!
NIOSH is hosting the next Foresight Friday @ NIOSH webinar January 13, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (ET). Dr. Peter Scoblic, co-founder of Event Horizon Strategies and senior fellow at New America, will present on the growth of strategic foresight in the U.S. Government. Register now!

Monthly Features

Federal Register Notices

Proposed Data Collection Submitted for Public Comment and Recommendations: Respiratory Protective Devices
The notice was posted on November 28. Comments must be received by January 27.

Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health, Subcommittee for Procedures Reviews, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
The notice was posted on November 28. Comments must be received by February 9. The meeting will be held on February 16.


Transportation Warehouse and Utilities NORA Council Meeting
The Transportation, Warehousing, and Utilities NORA Council will be hosting a meeting January 24, 1–4 p.m. (ET) focused on the health and safety of rail transportation industry workers. Contact Karl Sieber to join or learn more.

News from Our Partners

BLS Reports Highest Fatal Occupational Injury Rate Since 2016
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released its 2021 annual report on U.S. fatal occupational injuries. The results reveal a large increase from 2020, with 5,190 fatal work injuries recorded in 2021, up from 4,764 in 2020. This translates to a fatal occupational injury rate of 3.6 in 2021, reflecting the highest annual rate since 2016. The BLS report highlights the importance of safety and health in the workplace. Read the full press release on the BLS website.

Work-related Amputations in Michigan, 2018–2020
The Occupational and Environmental Medicine team at Michigan State University recently released a new report titled Work-related Amputations in Michigan. The document identifies the number of work-related amputations that occurred in Michigan workers from 2018–2020. It also highlights the need for a multi-source surveillance system to give a more complete count on the burden of work-related amputations and to identify specific workplaces for interventions to prevent amputations.

Save the Date: 2023 National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media
The 2023 National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media (NCHCMM) will take place July 18–20. This free event brings together those representing academia, public health researchers, and practitioners from federal, state, and local governments, as well as other public and private organizations. The conference provides all attendees with a forum for collegial dialogue. Registration will be available soon at NCHCMM.

New Study Examining Driver Injuries in Local Crashes by Vehicle Type
The Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Surveillance Program recently published a manuscript in the Journal of Safety Research titled Driver Injuries in Heavy vs. Light and Medium Truck Local Crashes, 2010–2019. The objectives of this study were to use injury data to (1) compare demographic and injury characteristics, (2) assess workers’ compensation claim disposition and lost work time status, and (3) describe injury scenarios by vehicle type for heavy truck and light/medium truck driver local crashes.

Call for Proposals:

  • Work, Stress, and Health 2023: The deadline to submit proposals is March 6.

Conferences, Meetings, Webinars, & Events

This page provides a list of publicly available occupational safety and health-related conferences, meetings, webinars, and events sponsored by NIOSH as well as other government agencies, and nongovernment agencies, such as universities, professional societies, and organizations.