Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Occupational hazards

From a study reported on the Frontline website at

Roughly 120 million people worked in the U.S. in 1992. Every job carries some risks. Many workers are exposed to job-related safety risks of traffic accidents, falls, murder, electrocution, fire, being struck by objects, explosion, heat, cold, animal attacks, and airplane crashes, as well as health risks from radiation, asbestos, silica, benzene, coal dust, tuberculosis, secondhand smoke, carbon monoxide, pesticides, benzidine, arsenic, lead, chromium, and stress.

  • Roughly 6,371 job-related injury deaths, 13.3 million nonfatal injuries, 60,300 disease deaths, and 1,184,000 illnesses occurred in the U.S. workplace in 1992.
  • The total direct and indirect costs associated with these injuries and illnesses were estimated to be $155.5 billion, or nearly 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Injuries generated roughly 85 percent whereas diseases generated 15 percent of all costs.
  • Small firms have exceptionally high injury rates.
  • Occupations contributing the most to costs included truck drivers, laborers, janitors, nursing orderlies, assemblers, and carpenters. On a per capita basis, lumberjacks, laborers, millwrights, prison guards, and meatcutters contributed the most to costs.
  • Occupations at highest risk for carpal tunnel syndrome include dental hygienists, meatcutters, sewing machine operators, and assemblers. Among well-paid professions, dentists face the highest risks.
  • Disabling injuries are strongly correlated with job experience. New employees, regardless of age, experience a high and disproportionate number of injuries.
  • Men are more likely than women to sustain a work injury. This is especially true for an injury resulting in death The nonfatal injury ratio for men to women is nearly 2:1, whereas the fatal injury ratio is about 11:1.
  • Blacks and Hispanics experience greater injury rates than non-Hispanic whites.
  • In 1992, the CFOI and the NHIS underestimate injuries experienced by blacks.* The self-employed, persons employed in small firms, and persons over age 65 are at high risk for sustaining an injury death.
  • Laborers, truck drivers, and taxi drivers generate among the highest death rates of all occupations.
  • Mining, farming, and construction are the industries with the highest rates of fatal and nonfatal injuries.
  • Murder is the most likely cause of death for business executives and sales workers.
  • Operators and laborers generate the greatest numbers of deaths and nonfatal injuries among all broad occupation groups.
  • Laborers, truck drivers, nursing aides, janitors, assemblers, stock handlers, and cashiers generate the most disabling injuries among detailed occupations.
  • Being at work is not safer than being at home. People who work are more likely to be injured at work than at home. This is especially true for men. Moreover, work-related injuries are more likely to result in hospitalizations than injuries originating outside of work.

With that as background, let's take a walk down memory lane, to examine some of the risks associated with professions that are now defunct:

Hatter's shakes: Related, of course, to the phrase 'mad as a hatter'. What was the root cause of your ailments, if you were a hatter? Mercury, even more toxic than lead.

From Michael Quinion's World Wide Words site:.... the term derives from an early industrial occupational disease. Felt hats were once very popular in North America and Europe; an example is the top hat. The best sorts were made from beaver fur, but cheaper ones used furs such as rabbit instead.A complicated set of processes was needed to turn the fur into a finished hat. With the cheaper sorts of fur, an early step was to brush a solution of a mercury compound — usually mercurous nitrate — on to the fur to roughen the fibres and make them mat more easily, a process called carroting because it made the fur turn orange. Beaver fur had natural serrated edges that made this unnecessary, one reason why it was preferred, but the cost and scarcity of beaver meant that other furs had to be used.Whatever the source of the fur, the fibres were then shaved off the skin and turned into felt; this was later immersed in a boiling acid solution to thicken and harden it. Finishing processes included steaming the hat to shape and ironing it. In all these steps, hatters working in poorly ventilated workshops would breathe in the mercury compounds and accumulate the metal in their bodies.We now know that mercury is a cumulative poison that causes kidney and brain damage. Physical symptoms include trembling (known at the time as hatter’s shakes), loosening of teeth, loss of co-ordination, and slurred speech; mental ones include irritability, loss of memory, depression, anxiety, and other personality changes. This was called mad hatter syndrome.

Woolsorter's disease: Anthrax, from handling the fleeces.

Goldsmelter's cataract: Goldsmiths and other metal workers were at greater risk of developing cataracts because they used to stare at the bright molten metal. A tangential note: St Clare (of Assisi) is the patron saint of needle-workers, embroiderers, eyes and eye diseases, goldsmiths, gilders, laundry workers, telegraph, telephone, television writers and good weather. Toward the end of her life, when she was too ill to attend Mass, an image of the service would be displayed on the wall of her cell; because of this, she became the patron saint of television

Painter's colic: Lead poisoning caused by inhaling fumes from lead-based paints.

Phossy-jaw: Phossy jaw, formally phosphorus necrosis of the jaw is a deadly occupational hazard for those who work with white phosphorus without proper safeguards. It was most commonly seen in workers in the match industry in the 19th and early 20th century. Modern occupational hygiene practices have eliminated the conditions which lead to this affliction.
Chronic exposure to the vapour of white phosphorus, the active ingredient of most matches from the 1840s to the 1910s, caused a deposition of phosphorus in the jaw bones. It also caused serious brain damage. Workers afflicted would begin suffering painful toothaches and swelling of the gums. Over time, the jaw bone would begin to abscess, a process which was both extremely painful and disfiguring to the patient, and repellent to others, since drainage from the dying bone tissue was exceedingly foul-smelling. The jawbones would gradually rot away and would actually glow a greenish-white color in the dark. Surgical removal of the afflicted jaw bones might save the sufferers' life at this point—otherwise, death from organ failure would invariably follow.
Public revulsion eventually caused changes in match manufacturing which eliminated the disease. In some nations, legislative action was required to force these changes on a reluctant industry.

Dialpainter's disease: "The doctors tell me I will die, but I mustn't. I have too much to live for-- a husband who loves me and two children I adore. They say nothing can save me, nothing but a miracle." Ottawa native Catherine Donohue wrote those words and more from her bed to the Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Chicago in the mid-1930s. She asked for a novena to bring her a miracle. She had to write the words for she could not speak them. Her teeth and a large portion of her jawbone were gone. Cancer was eating away at her bone marrow. The doomed young mother weighed only 65 pounds. Catherine Donohue was a charter member of the nonexistent organization, "The Society of the Living Dead," so called because members had two things in common: all worked at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois and all eventually suffered an agonizing death from radium radiation poison. More than 30 of these area co-workers (among others in dialpainting plants across the country), each of whom painted a radium-laced solution onto clock faces, watch dials and military equipment so they would glow in the dark, found that the simple habit of licking their brushes into a fine point eventually gave them terminal head and bone cancer.

Assured that the radium-laced compound was completely safe, even digestible, the young women painted their dress buttons, fingernails, eyelids and even their teeth for fun. When they went home from work, they thrilled their families and friends with glowing clothes, fingers and hair. Dialpainters were instructed in the technique of lippointing to perform their finely detailed work. Mixing the dry, luminous paint powder with paste and thinner, the workers drew their small brush to a point with their lips before dipping it in the paint, and then meticulously filled in the numbers or other marks on clockfaces or other equipment before repeating the process. The whole sorry story is documented in two different books, "Deadly Glow" and "Radium Girls".

Caisson disease: Dr. Andrew Smith first utilized the term "caisson disease" describing 110 cases of decompression sickness as the physician in charge during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The project employed 600 compressed air workers. Recompression treatment was not used. The project chief engineer Washington Roebling suffered from caisson disease. (He took charge after his father John Augustus Roebling died of tetanus.) Washington's wife, Emily, helped manage the construction of the bridge after his sickness confined him to his home in Brooklyn. He battled the after-effects of the disease for the rest of his life. During this project, decompression sickness became known as "The Grecian Bends" because afflicted individuals characteristically arched their backs: this is possibly reminiscent of a then fashionable women's dance maneuver known as the Grecian Bend.

X-ray dermatitis: Yes, indeedy, maybe those shoe-fitting fluoroscopes weren't such a boffo idea after all.

pdf file

Fiddler's neck: occupational hazards for musicians

Bagpiper's fungus: See previous entry

Beat knee: Beat knee, beat hand, and beat elbow are acute inflammation of the tissues under the skin of the part affected. Beat knee results from constant kneeling in thin seams, beat hand results from using rough-handled tools, beat elbow results from pressure on the joint caused by crawling in very thin seams or from holing. The symptoms are pain, swelling, stiffness of the parts affected, probably followed by suppuration. Preventive measures include the use of pads for the knees and elbows, and the application of iodine to cuts and abrasions.

Ankylostomiasis: ANKYLOSTOMIASIS, or Anchylostomiasis (also called helminthiasis, "miners' anaemia," and in Germany Wurmkrankheit), a disease to which in recent years* much attention has been paid, from its prevalence in the mining industry in England, France, Germany, Belgium, North Queensland and elsewhere.

This disease is due to the presence in the intestine of nematoid worms (Ankylostoma duodenalis) from one-third to half an inch long. The symptoms include pain in the stomach, capricious appetite, pica (or dirt-eating), obstinate constipation followed by diarrhoea, palpitations, small and unsteady pulse, coldness of the skin, pallor of the skin and mucous membranes, diminution of the secretions, loss of strength and, in cases running a fatal course, dysentery, haemorrhages and dropsies. The parasites, which cling to the intestinal mucous membrane, draw their nourishment from the blood-vessels of their host, and as they are found in hundreds in the body after death, the disorders of digestion, the increasing anaemia and the consequent dropsies and other cachectic symptoms are easily explained.

The disease was first known in Europe among the Italian workmen employed on the St Gotthard tunnel. In 1896, though previously unreported in Germany, 107 cases were registered there, and the number rose to 295 in 1900, and 1030 in 1901. In England an outbreak at the Dolcoath mine, Cornwall, in 1902, led to an investigation for the home office by Dr Haldane F.R.S. (see especially the Parliamentary Paper, numbered Cd. 1843), and since then discussions and inquiries have been frequent.

The parasites thrive in an environment of dirt, and the main lines of precaution are those dictated by sanitary science. Malefern, santonine, thymol and other anthelmintic remedies are prescribed.

*: this account is taken from a 1911 encyclopedia.

Orf: contagious pustular dermatosis - caused by a pox virus, this is a zoonosis caught from sheep - an occupational hazard for farmers and veterinarians. It is self-limiting but unpleasant and painful.

Also the abbreviation for the Norfolk, VA airport.

Popcorn Worker's Lung: Occupational airway diseases such as occupational asthma, bronchitis, reactive airways dysfunction syndrome and byssinosis are common workplace diseases. The involvement of the small airways, such as the bronchioles are infrequently reported in occupational airway disease, but these may lead to serious chronic lung injury.

One such disease of the bronchioles is bronchiolitis obliterans. This disease is initiated by damage to the epithelium of the small conducting airways and progresses to inflammation of the airways, frequently to the adjacent alveolar tissue as well. The clinical consequence of this injury and inflammation is irreversible airway obstruction.

Exposure to an agent during diacetyl production appears to be responsible for causing bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome in chemical process operators, consistent with the suspected role of diacetyl in downstream food production.

This first came to public attention when eight former employees of the Gilster-Mary Lee popcorn plant in Jasper, Missouri, developed bronchiolitis obliterans. In 2000, the Missouri Department of Health called in NIOSH to make a determination of the cause, and to recommend safety measures. After surveying the plant and each patient's medical history, NIOSH recommended respiratory protection for all workers in microwave popcorn production. Due to this event, bronchiolitis obliterans began to be referred to in the popular media as "Popcorn Lung" or "Popcorn Workers Lung".

Coal Worker's Pneumoconiosis: Coal worker's pneumoconiosis is a lung disease caused by breathing in dust from coal, graphite, or man-made carbon for a long time. Although some miners never develop the disease, others may develop the early signs after less than 10 years of mining experience.

Coal worker's pneumoconiosis (CWP) can be defined as the accumulation of coal dust in the lungs and the tissue's reaction to its presence. The disease is divided into 2 categories: simple CWP (SCWP) and complicated CWP (CCWP), or pulmonary massive fibrosis (PMF), depending on the extent of the disease.

Prognosis is poor once the patient has been determined to have PMF. Treatment is palliative.

Simple CWP specimen

Progressive massive fibrosis specimen (caution - high nausea potential)

All in all, it makes one think that perhaps the work of OSHA is underappreciated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The plain people of Ireland: Yuck! It's enough to make a person quit smoking altogether.