Minneapolis Memories
AIHce EXP 2019 Brought the IH Profession to the City of Lakes
From May 20 through May 22, thousands of industrial hygienists and occupational health and safety professionals attended AIHce EXP 2019 in Minneapolis. Summaries of just a few of the 150-plus educational sessions appear below. For additional reporting on the conference, including more detailed versions of the writeups in these pages, visit the AIHce Daily. LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP At the Opening General Session on May 20, keynoter Carey Lohrenz shared lessons learned from her career in the U.S. Navy, where she made history by becoming the first female F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot.  While in flight, fighter pilots face information overload, Lohrenz explained. They’re simultaneously listening to three radios on different frequencies, trying to synthesize information that is often conflicting, while experiencing up to eight times the force of gravity. The job is mentally and physically challenging, and Lohrenz stresses that pilots can’t do it on their own. Every aircraft carrier has about 5,000 people on board. “Your job, whether you have a title or not, is to clarify the complex,” she said. On an aircraft carrier, “all of your decisions should support the safe launching and recovering of airplanes.”
AIHce EXP 2019 keynoter Carey Lohrenz.
In dangerous environments, Lohrenz said, leaders must be able to decide what is most important about the work at specific times. She recommends a process she calls “prepare, perform, prevail,” which involves setting clear objectives, rules, and expectations, assigning accountability, and planning to debrief.  “Risk management and operating safely is everything” to fighter pilots, she said. “We take the time to brief our team [so that] everybody knows what success is going to look like. [And] after every single flight, we debrief.” Lohrenz challenged attendees to use what they learn at the conference to influence their organizations and broader communities. “The only way any of this is going to make a difference is if you take action,” she said. “If you can simply do one thing every day that either puts a pit in your stomach or a lump in your throat, I promise you will inspire and empower everyone around you to step up and start owning their role as a fearless leader as well.” FOURTH-GENERATION NERVE AGENTS On March 4, 2018, in Salisbury, England, Sergei Skirpal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a park bench, vomiting and suffering from seizures. An investigation eventually uncovered that operatives working for the Russian government had sprayed a doorknob at Sergei’s house with a fourth-generation nerve agent, or FGA. The attack was an act of retribution against Sergei Skirpal, a Russian double agent. Following the incident, the White House National Security Council convened a working group to develop resources for emergency responders in case a similar exposure occurs in the U.S. At AIHce EXP 2019, two industrial hygienists involved with the working group, John Koerner of the Department of Health and Human Services and Jennifer Hornsby-Myers of NIOSH, shared what they had learned about FGAs. Koerner explained that FGAs are distinct from highly volatile chemical warfare agents such as sarin and low-volatility agents such as VX. FGAs are more persistent, and detection is problematic. Hornsby-Myers emphasized that a failure to detect FGA doesn’t mean it isn’t present. In cases where signs and symptoms suggest the presence of FGA but instruments don’t detect it, “go with signs and symptoms,” she said. Both presenters highlighted the need for emergency responders to follow proper protocols when responding to incidents with unknown chemical hazards, such as wearing appropriate PPE.  The resources developed by the National Security Council working group include a summary of the events in Salisbury written for emergency responders, medical management guidelines for FGAs, and an FGA reference guide that resembles a safety data sheet. The resources can be accessed online. IH AND THE OPIOID CRISIS At a session on May 20, Peter B. Harnett, chair of AIHA’s Opioids Responder Working Group, discussed the group’s initial focus on the health and safety of first responders to opioid-related incidents. Working group members have participated in outreach and training efforts, responded to a NIOSH request for input on a fentanyl wipe procedure, and developed an opioid response card template for first responders. The template was adapted by the New York City Police Department, and now more than 50,000 police officers and staff have access to the information, Hartnett said. Working group member Jonathan Rosen spoke next about the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences training program for workers with potential for occupational exposure to fentanyl and other opioids. The program teaches workers the signs and symptoms of exposure, control measures, and methods for decontamination and cleanup. Rosen noted that organizations should tailor the training to their own policies, procedures, and personal protective equipment. One challenge for police and responders is that they often don’t know how much drug material is present until they arrive at the scene. After arrival, it would be difficult for responders to change their level of protection, Rosen explained. Rosen noted that science organizations have advised that incidental skin contact with dry opioid products is not likely to cause overdoses, but NIOSH has not had the opportunity to do real-time monitoring. None of the agency’s health hazard evaluations have been able to determine exactly how people were exposed. Rosen also highlighted the need to encourage workers with opioid addiction to access treatment. “If people have a substance abuse problem in the workplace, we want them to feel comfortable coming forward,” he stressed.

Dennis Driscoll, a noise prevention and hearing conservation specialist, discussed practical ways to lower occupational noise exposure and quantify the benefits of hearing conservation and prevention programs during the Derek E. Dunn Noise Lecture on May 20. Because company leaders are usually unaware how much they spend on hearing conservation, Driscoll created an audit form that identifies the direct and indirect costs of hearing loss prevention programs. Using data from the form, Driscoll determined that each worker in a hearing loss prevention program cost companies approximately $350 per year. This figure does not include the costs of controlling noise, which he calculated separately to average around $330,000 per plant. A company with these costs would achieve full return on its investment on hearing conservation and protection in a little under five years, Driscoll said. “Only through having these cost estimates could the management put their arms around it and understand the benefits of having the noise control,” he said. Some interventions yield greater immediate benefits than others. One example is limiting use of compressed air, which accounts for anywhere from a quarter to a third of a given plant’s noise problems, Driscoll said. Other priority areas include equipment setup and maintenance. “Many times, solenoids or air cylinders will be oversized for the type of service they’re supposed to perform,” Driscoll said. Proper setup can mitigate noise from these devices. But improvements in the workplace require persistence from industrial hygienists. “Every effective noise control program and every effective hearing loss prevention program has a common denominator,” Driscoll said. “It has a champion, someone who will take the lead. Hopefully, that will be you.” DANGERS OF NEGLECTING FARM SAFETY Investigative reporter Jeffrey Meitrodt of the Minneapolis Star Tribune became the nineteenth journalist to present the annual Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture on May 20. Meitrodt’s series “Tragic Harvest” examines a surge in farm deaths that went unnoticed by officials charged with overseeing workplace safety. Meitrodt showed how, in Minnesota and other Midwestern states, most fatal accidents were occurring on small farms that were exempt from federal regulations because they employed fewer than 11 workers. 
“It was up to [farmers] to decide what’s a safe practice and what’s not, and they were making a lot of tragic decisions,” Meitrodt said. Some farmers worked in grain bins without harnesses. They often operated tractors that were prone to tipping over. Others made repairs to farm machinery while it was still operating. Meitrodt traveled to 70 different sheriff’s departments around Minnesota to ask for information related to the deaths of these farmers, and he spent months contacting family members of the deceased. Published in October 2015, the four articles in “Tragic Harvest” had an impact on Minnesota politicians. “The next thing you know, they’re changing the law,” Meitrodt said. “For a state that never really talked about a farm safety program, they launched the best tractor rollover program in the country.” However, work remains to be done. In 2017, Meitrodt said, the state’s farmers saw the third highest death rate in 15 years.  To read “Tragic Harvest,” visit the Star Tribune website. VIRTUAL, ON-DEMAND HEALTHCARE Perhaps more than any other individual, Dr. Leslie Saxon, a cardiologist who addressed attendees at the Closing General Session on May 22, is working to bring about a digital transformation in the way healthcare is delivered. Saxon views health-tracking devices such as the Apple Watch as game-changing developments ushering in a new model of healthcare that empowers patients. Saxon’s word for this model is “lifecare,” an approach that would use continuous health monitoring and wireless connectivity to maximize health interventions from the literal cradle to the literal grave. In Saxon’s vision, everyone’s health data would reside on secure servers and be accessible at the appropriate times to the appropriate health professionals. According to Saxon, the personalized records people will collect using their smartphones, smart watches, and other devices will dwarf their electronic health records. “Devices are becoming amazingly sophisticated,” she said. The Apple Watch, for example, can track a person’s activity, administer an electrocardiogram, detect falls, and identify a wearer’s geolocation. Similarly, an app developed by the University of Southern California Center for Body Computing uses voice technology to answer health-related questions.  Saxon acknowledged that considerable obstacles remain to achieving lifecare, security foremost among them. But her experiences as executive director for the Center for Body Computing have convinced her that the world is ready for 24/7 health monitoring. “Our mission is to modernize healthcare through technology to make it more accessible and affordable for all,” she said. AIHA IN THE ATL While AIHce EXP 2019 is fading in the rearview, work for next year’s conference, which will be held June 1–3 in Atlanta, has already begun. Until the conference website goes live in September, you can find information about AIHce EXP 2020 on AIHA's website.    KAY BECHTOLD is senior editor of The Synergist.
ED RUTKOWSKI is editor in chief of The Synergist.
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Upton Sinclair Lecturer Jeffrey Meitrodt, author of “Tragic Harvest.”
If you missed out on attending AIHce this year, you can still experience the conference—and earn certification maintenance points—through AIHce On Demand. For more information, visit AIHA's website.
AIHce Daily: The Home for Conference News Visit the AIHce Daily for additional Synergist reporting on AIHce EXP 2019, including the following articles:
  • Not Just Police: “Fentanyl Epidemic” a Concern for Several Occupational Groups
  • The Machines Are Coming: NIOSH Speakers Preview the Future of Occupational Robotics
  • First Responders Describe Cave Rescues in Saint Paul
  • Researcher Sketches Grim Outlook for Fight Against “Superbugs”
  • Beyond Exposures: Cummings Lecturer Calls for New Focus on Employment Quality
  • Cardiologist Paves the Way for Virtual, On-Demand Healthcare
  • Reporter Highlights Dangers of Neglecting Farm Safety at AIHce EXP
  • Dunn Lecturer Shares Advice for Lowering Noise Exposure, Measuring Return on Investment
  • AIHce Speakers Focus on Industrial Hygienists’ Role in the Opioid Crisis
  • Late-Breaking Session Addresses 2018 Nerve Agent Attack
  • Fighter Pilot Brings Lessons in Leadership to AIHce EXP