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December 13, 2021
NIOSH casts spotlight on opioids

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced in a Total Worker Health (TWH) update that the institute’s grant partners are conducting research on the impact of opioids in the workplace. Extramural researchers have been studying and developing resources related to the prevention of opioid misuse and overdose in working populations.

NIOSH has collected research findings, surveillance data, and education and training resources on an Opioids in the Workplace webpage.

The National Safety Council (NSC) has identified employers’ role as a universal gap in addressing opioid overdose deaths. The NSC surveys have found that 75 percent of employers have been directly impacted by employee opioid misuse. It also offers employer resources, including an employer toolkit and a 1-hour eLearning course, to provide supervisors and safety professionals with the ability to recognize and respond to perceived impairment in the workplace. The NSC’s mission includes combating impairment in addition to addressing preventable injuries and death, and its training covers: 

  • The importance of recognizing and responding to impairment;
  • Supervisor responsibilities when recognizing impairment;
  • Common causes of impairment (alcohol, cannabis, fatigue, mental distress, and more);
  • Common signs and symptoms of impairment;
  • Steps to respond to potential impairment; and
  • Other considerations, including human resources involvement, prevention, and laws and regulations.

NIOSH’s TWH priority areas and emerging issues include opioid use disorders and substance use disorders, as well as mental health issues in the workplace. NIOSH also announced a call for presentations for its Third International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health, scheduled for October 11–14, 2022. Proposals are due February 4, 2022.

Respiratory Protection Toolbox Talk

NIOSH also released a Respiratory Protection Toolbox Talk (DHHS (NIOSH) Pub. No. 2022-102), developed with the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR). NIOSH develops toolbox talks, based on its safety and health research, that can be used for brief presentations at construction worksites.

The Respiratory Protection Toolbox Talk covers the use of NIOSH-approved respirators to protect workers from unsafe airborne contaminants such as dust and fumes that can harm health and cause serious diseases.

Types of respirators include:

  • Filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) like N95s;
  • Elastomeric half-mask respirators (EHMRs);
  • Elastomeric full-facepiece respirators (EFFRs); and
  • Half-mask, full-facepiece, and hood or helmet powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs).

Respiratory protection is used when engineering controls like local exhaust ventilation or tool-wetting to control dust or administrative controls like rotating workers between hazardous tasks are not feasible or are insufficient to reduce harmful exposures below Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permissible exposure limits (PELs) for hazardous substances.

Respirator use must be part of an employer’s written respiratory protection program that includes medical evaluation, training, and respirator fit testing. While OSHA sets regulatory PELs for hazardous substances, NIOSH sets recommended exposure levels (RELs) for substances like silica dust and tests and approves respirators. Respirators must have an approval label showing their protection level, such as N95 for respirators that filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles that are not oil-resistant.

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