Workplace Violence to Big Rigs – Celebrating 20 Years of Studying Workplace Hazards

June 30, 2010
To study the air that workers in auto repair shops breathe, analysts with the SHARP Program, the research group at the Department of Labor & Industries, bought a hunting vest and stuffed it with measuring devices, including several filters and three different air pumps.

To show truckers the stress their bodies endure when they jump from the cab of their big rigs, the researchers created a virtual simulation of a ghostly image leaping from several different parts of a truck and placed it on the trucking safety Web site, http://www.keeptruckingsafe.org.

And when the SHARP team learns of a workplace death, they don’t just add it to their statistics, they dispatch researchers to the site of the fatality to interview co-workers and employers, examine equipment and try to draw lessons from the tragedy, detailing their findings in reports presented on their Web site at http://www.Lni.wa.gov/safety/research.

Gathering data, studying the causes behind workplace injuries and deaths, and disseminating that information is what the SHARP Program has done for 20 years.

On July 1, the program will mark its two decades of service with a day-long symposium, “SHARP at 20: Occupational Safety and Health Research at L&I,” at L&I in Tumwater, Wash.

Guests are expected to include officials from several federal agencies, including OSHA and NIOSH.

SHARP is an acronym for Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention. SHARP researchers, which include epidemiologists, industrial hygienists, safety engineers, toxicologists, ergonomists and experts from other scientific disciplines, are credited with identifying a host of workplace hazards and offering recommendations to improve workplace safety and health.

“Since its creation, SHARP has proven invaluable in identifying workplace hazards and offering effective solutions that have had a profound effect on the lives of workers,” said L&I Director Judy Schurke. “The work that SHARP researchers produce is renowned, not just in Washington state but both nationally and internationally, for setting the standard in occupational health research. Over the years, this team has opened the eyes of many in a variety of industries.”

Researchers at SHARP have studied everything from construction and trucking to furniture production and agriculture. Their reports have delved into nail-gun injuries, falls from stilts and lead hazards from firearm firing ranges. Their recommendations have led to new workplace safety rules in Washington state on workplace violence and outdoor heat exposure and a host of other safety and health recommendations.

“I am very proud of the innovative work and dedication of the SHARP research team members,” said SHARP research director Barbara Silverstein. “SHARP researchers may move on to other areas, but all of them remain dedicated to the improvement of workplace safety.”

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