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Environmental Factor, July 2015

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Innovative training program launched in the wake of Ebola

By Eddy Ball

Hughes speaking

Hughes moderated the discussions about biosafety training. WTP staffers Sharon Beard, Jim Remington, and Ted Outwater also participated in planning and presenting the meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Gwen Collman

“It’s not only frontline health workers that are in harm’s way [from Ebola and other infectious diseases],” Collman told the attendees. “There are lots of community support people in lots of the environments where people go when they’re sick.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP) did what it does best at a grantee meeting May 28 in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. WTP brought together veteran worker-safety training experts to discuss training needs for future infectious disease outbreaks, ranging from influenza and Ebola hemorrhagic fever to newly emerging biological threats.

The innovative approach targets workers beyond direct health care providers, to train others who might be affected by an infectious disease outbreak, from lab techs and janitors, to garbage handlers, first responders, and morticians.

Moderated by WTP Director Chip Hughes, more than 20 representatives from awardees (see text box) of grants totaling some $650,000 came together to plan awareness, operations, and community training sessions across the U.S., which must be in place by July 31, 2015. The short-term grants are just the initial phase of funding that is expected to total $9 million over fiscal years 2016–2018.

Developing scaffolding for a new kind of infectious disease response

“We wanted to use this meeting as a working session,” Hughes said in his welcome remarks, “to help lay some groundwork for the [multifaceted] infectious disease response effort that we are undertaking jointly with NIOSH [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health] and CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].”

As he explained, the initiative is a bold new step for WTP because it is more comprehensive than the immediate, single-disaster responses that were mounted following hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the World Trade Center attack, and the Gulf oil spill.

According to NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training Director Gwen Collman, Ph.D., WTP can play a pivotal role in developing a new flexible response-training program. “It’s been a very interesting experience for NIEHS to get more involved in the infectious disease world,” she said, “and think about worker health and safety under new circumstances.”

The wider focus makes sense because, in the words of Kevin Yeskey, M.D., of the NIEHS National Clearinghouse for Worker Safety and Health Training , “Ebola will come and go, but there are other things out there as well.”

Prevention as well as response

The broadest type of instruction funded by the program should raise awareness so that workers know when and where to seek expert help, without needlessly endangering their own lives and health. As grantee Mark Catlin, of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), pointed out, workers need to understand what they do not have to do and how to avoid the reckless heroic response that may cause more harm than good.

The focus of the training, which is planned at sites across the U.S., will be necessarily broad to effectively train for emerging threats, explained grantee Janelle Rios, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Houston. “We don’t know what’s next,” she said.

(Eddy Ball, Ph.D., is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

  • Yeskey speaking

    Yeskey led a lively discussion about the draft “Training Competencies to Prepare Workers with Potential Exposure to Biological Hazards” that WTP Program Analyst Jim Remington and WTP contractor Nina Jaitly, M.D., developed for the meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Mark Catlin

    SEIU lead researcher Catlin said his awareness training program will target allied health workers, janitors, airport workers, and others who were left out of earlier training for direct health care providers. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Rosen and Alexander

    John Morawetz, left, of ICWUC Center for Worker Health and Safety Education, and Darryl Alexander, of the American Federation of Teachers, underscored the importance of training with a broad scope to address the range of infectious diseases. “We don’t want this to sunset [because a single threat is past],” Alexander said. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Rodrigo Toscano

    Rodrigo Toscano, of the United Steelworkers Union, described plans to conduct bilingual training for immigrant workers at medical centers in New York and California, saying that he expects literacy and translation to be the greatest challenges. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Rios and Gibbs

    Shawn Gibbs, Ph.D., left, of University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Rios are targeting first responders, public health officials, waste handlers, and hospital employees with awareness, operations, and community training. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • SueAnn Sarpy

    Sue Ann Sarpy, Ph.D., a consultant who specializes in training program evaluation, said the programs need to include outcome measures that demonstrate impact, “to show if we’ve moved the needle, and, if not, why not.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Building an infrastructure to respond to infectious disease

The first phase supports pilot programs by six organizations, to reach nearly 4,000 workers across the U.S. by July 31.

  • International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC) Center for Worker Health and Safety Education
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters
  • Rutgers University School of Public Health
  • SEIU Education and Support Fund
  • United Steelworkers Union
  • University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston

In addition to the best practices and training designs these programs will develop over the next two months, the grantees will be able to access resources developed by WTP, individual states, and federal partners. The federal agencies include the CDC , NIOSH , Occupational Safety and Health Administration , and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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