Occupational illnesses

Occupational Keynote: Work-related illnesses need more attention

Reprints
David Michaels

Atlanta – Occupational illnesses are a “massive” problem in the United States – one that needs more attention, more data and stronger actions. That was the message from speakers Sept. 29 at the Occupational Keynote during the NSC Congress & Expo.

As many as 50,000 people die every year from occupational illnesses, and up to 5 percent of all cancer deaths are caused by occupational exposures, according to NIOSH Director John Howard. But these figures are only estimates, he added, as the data systems are inaccurate due to underreporting, the length of time between exposure and illness, and the high cost of conducting research.

“Our systems are not set up to capture this data,” said AFL-CIO Director of Safety and Health Peg Seminario, who advocated for expanded surveillance systems to obtain updated data.

Because OSHA lacks up-to-date permissible exposure limits for many chemicals, agency administrator David Michaels warned that employers should not simply comply with OSHA requirements.

“They’re not safe,” he said, recommending that organizations either follow more stringent limits or substitute for safer chemicals.

Michaels also encouraged stakeholders to submit comments on how to better protect workers from chemical exposures. A Request for Information closes Oct. 9.