Occupational Health News Roundup

The Army's Suicide Prevention Task Force has just released a report on suicide prevention, which they began 15 months ago in response to an increase in Army suicides (news release here, report here). In his letter introducing the report, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Peter Chiarelli summarizes the sobering findings:

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 we had 160 active duty suicide deaths, with 239 across the total Army (including Reserve Component). Additionally, there were 146 active duty deaths related to high risk behavior including 74 drug overdoses. This is tragic! Perhaps even more worrying is the fact we had 1,713 known attempted suicides in the same period. The difference between these suicide attempts and another Soldier death often was measured only by the timeliness of life-saving leader/buddy and medical interventions. Some form of high risk behavior (self-harm, illicit drug use, binge drinking, criminal activity, etc.) was a factor in most of these deaths. When we examined the circumstances behind these deaths, we discovered a direct link to increased life stressors and increased risk behavior. For some, the rigors of service, repeated deployments, injuries and separations from Family resulted in a sense of isolation, hopelessness and life fatigue. For others, a permissive unit environment, promoted by an out of balance Army with a BOG:Dwell [ratio between deployment time and time at home station] of less than 1:2, failed to hold Soldiers accountable for their actions and allowed for risk-taking behavior - sometimes with fatal consequences.

Chiarelli recommends better identification of and assistance for at-risk soldiers, including increasing healthcare access and reducing the stigma associated with seeking help. He also calls for "firm enforcement of discipline, retention and separation policies" - including separating from service soldiers who can't adapt to the rigors and stresses of it. The stressors will probably only continue to get worse - as Chiarelli puts it, "We all recognize the effects of working under an unprecedented operational tempo for almost a decade." The recommendations aim to make soldiers and their families more resilient under these circumstances.

In other news:

Charleston Gazette's Coal Tattoo Blog: The House Education and Labor Committee has already passed a mine safety bill, and now Senators Jay Rockefeller and Carte Goodwin of West Virginia have unveiled mine safety legislation.

Dateline: Migrant laborers' children, some as young as five or six, work alongside their parents on many US farms (via Casaubon's Book).

New York Times: After years of discrediting the cognitive risks of football playing, the NFL is producing a new poster and brochure to warn players about the long-term effects of concussions, including depression and early onset of dementia.

Los Angeles Times: A judge has thrown out a 2007 verdict that awarded millions to six Nicaraguan workers who said they were sterilized by exposure to the pesticide DBCP at Dole Food plantations.

Irish Times: A study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine compiled information from 41 studies conducted between the 1950s through 1990s and found that painters were 30% more likely to develop bladder cancer than the general population.

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