Occupational Health News Roundup

Days before the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the New York Times published an article about respirators. This protective equipment was intended to protect response and recovery workers at Ground Zero, but often failed to do so because of discomfort, inadequate training, or unsuitable equipment. Thousands were exposed to airborne contaminants, and many have become sick.

In the years since, federal agencies and equipment manufacturers have been working on developing new certification standards for respirator masks and assuring they can be used by workers responding to different emergencies, from disease outbreaks to accidental nanoparticle releases. Anthony DePalma reports:

Among the lessons learned from ground zero was that reusable respirators from different manufacturers used filters that weren’t interchangeable, greatly impeding flexibility. It was as if there were a different size spark plug for every make of car.

So the national laboratory, working with responders and manufacturers developed a set of standards, known as C.B.R.N. for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazards. To win C.B.R.N. certification, respirators must accept filters and cartridges with the same 40-millimeter thread, similar to the base of a standard light bulb.

Another lesson from ground zero was that responders were reluctant to wear masks for long because it was too hard to speak or to be understood while wearing one. The new equipment must also meet tougher intelligibility standards for communication.

Besides conducting research and testing products, the national laboratory inspects respirator manufacturing operations around the world and conducts surveillance to ensure that certified products continue to meet United States government standards.

DePalma also notes that respirator testing had been based on face shapes and sizes from a sample of Air Force cadets measured in the 1960s. Researchers at the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory are developing a new set of face, head, and neck standards based on a more up-to-date and diverse sample.

In other news:

Washington Post: A Government Accountability Office report requested by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand found that USDA used incomplete and antiquated data to support its proposed changes to poultry inspection requirements. Under USDA's proposal, poultry plants could speed up processing lines and replace federal food-safety inspectors with their own employees.

NJ Spotlight: Jersey City's Council will consider a bill, backed by Mayor Steven Fulop, that would require private companies with 10 or more workers to offer five paid sick days per year. (A bill introduced earlier this year the New Jersey Assembly would apply those same requirements statewide.)

WNYC: Many restaurant workers struggle to earn a living and care for their children; according to a recent report from the Restaurant Opportunities Center, some spend more than one-third of their income on childcare.

Charleston Gazette (West Virginia): David Hughart, a former longtime official of Massey Energy, has been sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for participating in a conspiracy to hide mine safety violations from federal inspectors. The case against Hughart is part of an ongoing investigation related to the April 2010 explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners.

New York Times: Western companies who contract with overseas suppliers often rely on factory audits to assure quality and safe working conditions. But an "extensive examination by The New York Times reveals how the inspection system intended to protect workers and ensure manufacturing quality is riddled with flaws."

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