Three UTHCT physicians and an expert with ties to UTHCT to speak at Houston meeting on occupational health research

Friday, January 20, 2006

HOUSTON - Four experts in occupational health and safety with ties to The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler will speak about research needs in that field at a public “Town Hall Meeting” on Monday, Jan. 23, in Houston.

This meeting is part of a national effort to keep working people, businesses, and the U.S. economy strong and vital by reducing worker injuries and illnesses in the next decade, according to John Howard, director of the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The focus of the Houston meeting will be “Health Care and Social Assistance.”

Jeffrey Levin, MD, MSPH, chairman of UTHSCT’s Department of Occupational Health Sciences, will describe the importance of occupational health research. In addition, he will discuss UTHSCT’s Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention, and Education and its importance to research.

David Coultas, MD, chairman of UTHSCT’s Department of Medicine, will outline issues in occupational pulmonary research. Dr. Coultas is interested in agricultural workers’ exposure to substances such as organic dust of plant or animal origin that may cause or worsen chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Paul Rountree, MD, vice chair of the Department of Occupational Health Sciences, will address the issue of the aging health care workforce. Roberta Ryder, chief executive officer of the National Center for Farmworker Health in Buda, Texas, also will speak at the Town Hall Meeting. She oversees one of UTHSCT’s agriculture center projects.

“In 1996, NIOSH joined with employers to create the National Occupational Research Agenda, or NORA. This led to a blueprint for planning and conducting research that is effective in preventing serious, disabling, and sometimes fatal workplace injuries and illnesses,” Dr. Levin said. Ten years later, NORA is again seeking public input to plan for future occupational safety and health research.

Many substances and conditions associated with agriculture pose health risks, Dr. Levin said. Workers can be exposed to chemical agents in pesticides, environmental exposure to ultraviolet rays as they work outside, and natural elements that threaten their lives, such as the danger of drowning that shrimp harvesters face. Some agricultural workers may also face biological exposures that cause diseases like farmer’s lung and bird flu.

“These areas need a better definition of risk factors, so we can develop ways to prevent exposure or damaging exposure. Much more research is needed to better understand why people act in certain ways and what can be done to change their behavior,” Dr. Levin said.

“Determining how to change individuals’ behavior also is an essential element in health care. So many of the diseases we deal with are the outcome of behaviors: eating and drinking too much, or exercising too little or not at all,” he said.

The daylong gathering begins at 9 a.m. Monday in The University of Texas School of Public Health Auditorium. UTHSCT’s agricultural center and the School of Public Health at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston are sponsoring the meeting, one of 10 being held throughout the nation.

Public comments from all these meetings will be used to help determine the priorities for each of eight sectors. These are agriculture, forestry, and fishing; construction; health care and social assistance; manufacturing; mining; public and private services; transportation, warehousing, and utilities; and wholesale and retail trade. In late spring, NORA will unveil the research plan for the next 10 years at a meeting in Washington, D.C.

If you are interested in speaking at the Houston Town Hall Meeting, please pre-register at the NORA Web page, . Comments about this issue may also be submitted electronically at the same NORA Web page. In addition, comments may be e-mailed to , or mailed to Docket NIOSH-047, Robert A. Taft Laboratories (C-34), 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226.

NOTICE: Protected health information is subject to electronic disclosure.