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Workplace Preparedness Against Terrorism is Strengthened by New Tools, Methods from NIOSH

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
September 4, 2003

One significant component of emergency preparedness is the ability to counter the risk of injuries, illnesses, and deaths from attacks in occupational settings. Another is to ensure the safety of the nation’s emergency responders when they respond to these attacks and other events. To do so, new tools and resources are needed. In the two years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has worked closely with diverse outside partners to meet that need.

These efforts build on NIOSH’s vast technical knowledge about workplace systems and designs, and on its experience in working with employers, employees, and other agencies to eliminate traditional occupational hazards. They reflect NIOSH’s service on the ground during the World Trade Center rescue and recovery and the October 2001 anthrax attacks, and its ability to find innovative answers to emerging health and safety concerns. NIOSH’s contributions have significantly strengthened the nation’s emergency preparedness.

Advancing the Design, Selection, and Appropriate Use of Respirators

The World Trade Center and anthrax emergencies underscored the need to provide emergency responders with respirators that can be relied on to protect against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents in physically demanding conditions of use. In collaboration with emergency responders, respirator manufacturers, employers, and other government agencies, NIOSH swiftly took several actions to advance a new generation of respirator technology:

  • In record time after 9/11, with input and support by outside partners, NIOSH launched a new program to test and certify respirators for use by emergency responders against CBRN exposures. Before the end of 2001, NIOSH issued new criteria for testing and certifying self-contained breathing apparatus for CBRN; such devices are the type of respirator most likely to be used by responders who are first on the scene at potential terrorist incidents. In Spring 2002, based on rigorous tests under the criteria, the first such certifications were announced.
  • Simultaneously, NIOSH geared up to develop similar criteria to test and certify other types of respirators for use by emergency responders against CBRN. In 2003, following extensive dialogue with stakeholders, NIOSH issued criteria for testing and certifying air-purifying respirators used by emergency responders. NIOSH also engaged stakeholders in development of new criteria for testing and certifying escape hood respirators intended to help employees in plants, factories, office buildings, and other workplaces to escape life-threatening toxic exposures in terrorist attacks. NIOSH regularly updates its web page to provide timely information about new criteria, new certifications, and ongoing dialogue with stakeholders.
  • When consumers seek information to help them understand the technical complexities of respirators, NIOSH provides an authoritative resource from its key role in testing and certifying respirators for occupational use. In 2003, NIOSH issued a fact sheet in easy-to-read Q&A format for the lay public: What are gas masks, escape hoods, and other types of respirators? How do they work? What are the features, purposes, and limitations of respirators that the user needs to know? NIOSH posted the fact sheet on the web and widely distributed printed copies.

Innovating and Applying New Methods for Detecting, Measuring BT Agents

NIOSH is partnering with other agencies and organizations to develop, validate, refine, and apply new technical methods that will provide earlier warning of workplace bioterrorism contamination, a more accurate basis for determining risks from BT exposures, and new tools for safeguarding facilities:

  • NIOSH is developing new methods for gathering and analyzing environmental samples, gearing those methods to the physical properties of BT viruses and bacteria for greatest sensitivity and reliability. These efforts build on NIOSH’s successes in adapting new techniques like the “allergy sock” for more reliable sampling in the field during the 2001 anthrax attack.
  • NIOSH is partnering on studies to better understand the ways in which BT contamination may enter and spread through buildings. This will strengthen efforts to safeguard workplaces and respond quickly to contamination if an attack occurs.
  • Applying its expertise in sampling and analysis, NIOSH is working with the U.S. Postal Service and other partners to assess the effectiveness of new engineering controls on mail sorting machines to reduce the risk of future anthrax exposures.

Protecting Building Ventilation Systems from CBRN Attacks

In 2002 and 2003, NIOSH issued guidelines to help facility specialists in government and industry strategically protect occupants of offices, retail facilities, schools, and other buildings from CBRN attacks. In 2002, NIOSH suggested smart measures for generally safeguarding building ventilation systems from such attacks. In 2003, NIOSH added more detailed guidance for designing and maintaining air filtration components in ventilation systems.

NIOSH Business Preparedness Web Site

NIOSH added a special topic page on its Web site to provide businesses with information needed to prepare for a terrorist-related emergency situation. The site includes information on how to develop a comprehensive plan for dealing with terrorism-related events, how to protect against and minimize the effects of a terrorist attack, and who to contact for further information.

NIOSH Emergency Response Database

NIOSH is developing a rapidly accessible, comprehensive database for high priority chemical, physical, radiological, and biological hazards that may be encountered in response to terrorist events. The database will help emergency response personnel perform their jobs safely and efficiently in situations that demand immediate attention and accurate information. NIOSH is incorporating peer review and stakeholder review. The database will be provided as an on-line resource and in a printable format for field use.

Monitoring the Health of WTC Rescue, Recovery Workers

NIOSH provided key assistance to meet concerns that occupational exposures to dusts and other contaminants during rescue and recovery operations at the World Trade Center may have put firefighters and other responders at risk of long-term illnesses:

  • NIOSH funded a program by Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and a consortium of occupational medicine clinics to provide free baseline clinical examinations to WTC rescue and recovery workers and volunteers. This baseline program began last year and is expected to continue through early 2004.
  • NIOSH has engaged occupational health professionals and other partners in discussions to guide the funding of long-term medical monitoring of the WTC rescue and recovery workers. NIOSH expects to announce the availability of funds for the long-term program in Fall 2003.