Innovative training program launched in the wake of Ebola
By Eddy Ball
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.)
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.