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Environmental Factor, November 2015

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Worker Training Program builds collaborations and enhances data use

By Tara Failey

Chip Hughes

Hughes, WTP director, oversees the programs to train workers to handle hazardous materials and waste, and perform emergency response.  (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

George Tucker

George Tucker, head of the NIEHS Grants Management Branch, presented an overview of the grants process. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP) launched a new round of grant awards with a Sept. 28-30 awardee meeting and workshop. The event focused on improving collaborations and increasing the collection and use of training program data. Grantees represent a network of nonprofit organizations (86KB) that provide training to workers who handle hazardous materials.

Awardees took advantage of the meeting to exchange training information, share program updates, and discover new areas of mutual interest. “Awardees have a variety of diverse resources they are bringing to the table,” said WTP Director Joseph "Chip" Hughes in his introduction.

NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., gave the keynote address, emphasizing that WTP is at the forefront of worker training on hazardous materials and disaster response in the United States. Since the program launched in 1986, she said, nearly three million workers, have been trained in hazardous waste removal, HAZMAT disaster preparedness, and emergency response to major national disasters.

Data collection, evaluation, and collaboration

To enhance program evaluation, participants discussed collecting anecdotal information and using economic and outcome analyses to identify factors associated with success. Sharon Beard, WTP industrial hygienist, pointed out how a program evaluation done for the Environmental Career Working Training Program showcased the powerful economic impact (361KB) of the program.

Opportunities for additional collaboration were also discussed. Successful collaborations in the past included:

  • Building relationships with state and local public health departments.
  • Engaging with federal, regional, and local governments.
  • Deepening partnerships between awardees.

Patricia Aldridge of the U.S. Department of Energy HAMMER Federal Training Center spoke to the importance of partnerships. “People working together can accomplish more than they can alone, and, as Aristotle famously stated, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” she said.

Proving that training makes a difference

Ruth Ruttenberg, Ph.D., an evaluation consultant to many of the WTP awardees, encouraged grantees to measure their successes in protecting workers. She noted how collection of both data and stories contributes to demonstrating a program’s importance. Useful stories document events that were prevented, as well as those that could have been avoided.

“For nearly three decades, workplace interventions made by way of WTP have helped prevent sicknesses and cancers among workers,” said Ruttenberg. “The NIEHS WTP program is living proof that training makes a difference.”

(Tara Failey is a communication specialist with MDB Inc., contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)

Linda Birnbaum

Birnbaum said that WTP has made great strides in improving public health in workplaces and communities since it began in 1986. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Charlene Obernauer

In addition to giving a presentation, Obernauer actively participated in discussions at the meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Demia Wright

Wright, WTP public health educator, discussed evaluation of worker training programs. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Sharon Beard Speaking

Beard described the evaluation of the Environmental Career Working Training Program and encouraged awardees to use similar evaluation techniques. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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