By Scott Schneider

Did you stop eating spinach last month when an outbreak of E. Coli occurred and hundreds of people got sick? The fast alert of danger probably saved many lives and can be credited, in part, to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The mission of CDC – housed in and part of the Department of Health and Human Services – is to help improve the health of Americans through a wide array of public health programs.

During October, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has four public meetings planned to get input on what the public health agency’s priorities should be in the coming period. “Occupational safety and health should be a key component of the nation’s health agenda,” says Noel C. Borck, the LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman. “Our Fund encourages everyone with an interest in public health – particularly in the occupational safety and health of working men and women – to participate in these meetings and help convince CDC to raise the priority of these vital issues.”

At the stakeholder meeting last month, the LHSFNA was the only entity present to represent the perspectives of workers, their unions and union contractors. While the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is part of the CDC and also participated in the discussion, its representatives, like other CDC staff, did not participate in the vote. Thus, when the CDC’s goals and objectives were voted upon, few issues of occupational safety and health were highly prioritized. The upcoming hearings offer an opportunity to sharpen the focus on these critical concerns.

At its September meeting, the agency asked its “partners,” including the LHFSNA, to review what the CDC does and help decide what it should be doing in the near future. To guide the evaluation, the CDC prepared a list of four goals and 80 objectives, asking the meeting’s participants to rank them in order of importance.

The four goals were:

  • Healthy People at Every Stage of Life (divided into five life stages – infant and toddler, children, adolescents, adults and older Americans)
  • Healthy People in Healthy Places (divided into seven places – communities, homes, travel and recreation, healthcare settings, institutions, schools and workplaces)
  • Healthy People in a Healthy World (including global health promotion, diplomacy and protection)
  • People Prepared for Emerging Health Threats (preparedness for epidemics, terrorist threats, natural catastrophes, etc.)

Each subcategory of goals had three to ten draft objectives, suggesting what CDC might aim to accomplish. Meeting participants were asked to comment on the objectives and then rank their top 25.  The objectives for healthy workplaces were as follows:

  • Increase the number of workplaces that protect workers’ health and safety.
  • Increase the number of workplaces that provide comprehensive programs that coordinate worker safety efforts with programs that promote the health and safety of workers and their families.
  • Increase the number of workers who have coverage for, and receipt of, clinical preventive health services (examples include colorectal cancer screening, counseling and influenza vaccinations).
  • Increase the number of workplaces that are accessible and protect the health and safety of workers and others (examples include programs to encourage hand washing at fast food establishments).
  • Increase the number of businesses that support efforts to improve community health.

While all these objectives are laudable, they are very general in their formulation. None are focused on practical issues of occupational safety and health. At the stakeholder meeting, they did not get a lot of votes. In fact, of the 80 objectives presented, only six received more than 50 percent of the vote as a top priority. Although it was pointed out that this kind of polling is unlikely to yield good information due to poorly written objectives and the participation of an unrepresentative public sample, the CDC is pressing on with plans to hold the four public meetings in October. Those meetings are planned for:

  • Oakland – Saturday, October 14 (Contact: Sarah Stokes; 970-513-5846)
  • San Antonio – Saturday, October 21 (Jody Erikson; 303-468-8862)
  • Boston – Saturday, October 21 (Doug Thompson; 508-468-5621)
  • Little Rock, AR – Saturday, November 4 (Doug Thompson; 508-468-5621)

“Every company and every working person has a stake in how the CDC sets its priorities,” says Borck. “These public hearings are our chance to make our opinions known. The LHSFNA encourages workers, unions, union contractors and professionals to participate to ensure that workplace safety and health issues are thoroughly considered and appropriately prioritized.”