252027 Unifying environmental and occupational health

Monday, October 31, 2011: 11:30 AM

David Michaels, PhD, MPH , Department of Labor, OSHA, Washington, DC
The intimate link between environmental and occupational health is often overlooked.  Many of the air, water and soil pollutants that are the focus of environmental health originate in workplaces, where workers are more heavily exposed than non-workers who are exposed after the pollutant leaves the workplace.  Workers who live in areas of significant environmental contamination may be exposed both at work and in the community. 

Environmental health research is also closely linked to occupational health.  There are many environmental contaminants whose human health effects cannot easily be studied outside the workplace, because these exposures are at relatively low levels. In these cases, studies of the health effects in worker populations are extrapolated down to estimate the risk among those exposed in community environments.

Finally, interventions in environmental and occupational health are linked: in many cases, control of workplace exposures can reduce all exposures, if control is accomplished through substitution by less toxic alternatives or in many cases improved engineering controls. On the other hand, there have been instances where attempts to reduce environmental exposures have resulted in greater workplace exposure.

This talk will highlight examples of such inadvertent harms caused by lack of integration of environmental and occupational controls and policies.  It will also describe current federal efforts to better coordinate and integrate environmental and occupational program activities.

Practitioners in the two fields have much to learn from each other and efforts to better integrate the fields will likely increase the effectiveness of both.

Learning Areas:
Environmental health sciences
Occupational health and safety

Learning Objectives:
1. Identify environmental contaminants to which workers are heavily exposed and whose toxic properties have been studied in occupational settings. 2. Identify examples of occupational exposures that have been increased as a result of environmental regulations. 3. Describe current federal efforts to better integrate occupational and environmental health policies.

Keywords: Occupational Health, Environmental Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the current Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health in the Department of Labor, have a great deal of experience in occupational epidemiology, and am the former acting Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at The George Washington University. I am very familiar with both research and programs in environmental and occupational health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.