American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition, May 19-23, 1997, Dallas, Texas. Fairfax, VA: American Industrial Hygiene Association, 1997 May; :25
Description: Numerous factors, including organizational, psycholocial, and health-risk communications issues, affected the complexity of a recent National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) health hazard evaluation (HHE). This presentation will discuss these factors and their apparent affects on the completion of the HHE. Situation: Some employees at a US Department of Energy (DoE) facility that formerly produced nuclear-weapons materials reported a variety of health problems, often persistent and unresolved despite interactions with medical-care providers. An occupational physician in the employer's medical department suspected these workers were experiencing "chronic, low-level cyanide intoxication." The employee requestors of the HHE as well as several individuals in the medical department supported this. A larger number of medical practitioners did not attribute this to an occupational exposure. Blood and urine tests for cyanide were inconclusive and controversial. Problems: Organizational: Workers reportedly received inconsistent information about the suspected agent and potential health effects and felt that their concerns were not taken seriously. The complex organizational structure made health and safety communication within the company difficult. Health-risk communications; A group of concerned employees had extensively researched cyanide toxicity. By the time the HHE was conducted, the NIOSH investigators found that strong opinions seemed to have formed. A medical and environmental evaluation was performed to address the cyanide concerns, and concluded that the employees were not occupationally exposed to a broad range of cyanide-containing compounds, and that the available information did not support a relationship between the reported health problems and chronic cyanide intoxication. Unfortunately, despite the strength of these conclusions, some employees seemed unwilling to accept them. Psychosocial: The involved parties (workers, local management, and DoE officials) generally acknowledged a lack of trust dating back to the days of weapons-material production. At the time of this evaluation, the NIOSH investigators found that an atmosphere of mistrust seemed to have formed regarding the cyanide issue. A group of concerned employees strongly vocalized their concerns to management, DoE, elected officials, media organizations, and independent advocacy groups. Resolution: Numerous attempts were made to incorporate employees' meetings, plans and sampling activities. NIOSH personnel consulted with employees and management representatives about air-sampling locations. Individual medical interviews were conducted to allow for individuals' expressions of concerns. NIOSH personnel communicated with other government agencies with involvement at the site. Findings were presented to employees and management in a written report and at an open meeting with ample opportunities for questions. Employees still have concerns about the safety of the workplace and continue to communicate these concerns to NIOSH, CDC, and elected officials.
American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition, May 19-23, 1997, Dallas, Texas