The Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, county health departments, National Guard, and local hospitals are committed to protect citizens. They are not skilled at urgent worksite response; crisis communication to employees, suppliers and customers; or protecting corporate reputations.
It came out in a professional conference that the CDC and the U.S. Postal Service mishandled the 2001 anthrax exposure assessment and worker protections at the Trenton, N.J., post office. Postal Service executives apparently relied on infection-control experts from the public health field, who selected a deficient technology to collect exposure evidence. Had industrial hygienists trained on worksite exposures chosen, the technology would likely have been correct.
Another scenario might be a worksite chemical spill within a large industrial park. Community-based disaster people would help protect nearby residents. The businesses, and their suppliers and customers, would need industrial professionals to respond with pinpoint accuracy.
OHDEN, the Occupational Health Disaster Expert Network, may be the right platform on which to build this network of worksite disaster response. It is a collaboration of occupational risk and corporate medical professionals. Industrial hygiene, occupational medicine and occupational nursing associations back it. Federal agencies give encouragement but not funding. That's the job of the private sector.
OHDEN is knitting together a network of individuals who can speedily alert and educate themselves before and at the hour of disaster. The founders predict that OHDEN will be just as effective with phantom disasters. Mistaken threats need to be discredited ahead of the blazing 11 o'clock news.
I talked with Gary Greenberg, a Duke University?based physician and OHDEN co-founder. For years he has been managing an active online group of several thousand professionals in occupational and environmental medicine. He described to me how OHDEN is linked to the Department of Homeland Security, research centers, corporate medical directors and public health officials.
A confluence of many independent events has forced up a new paradigm of fast, accurate communication by business and insurers. The Tylenol scare, the post-Sept. 11 anthrax attacks, prevention-planning post-Sept. 11--these and 100 other shocks make the case for getting the facts right as fast as possible to employers who must act without delay.
As a result, private and nonprofit organizations are pressured to respond more credibly to events that threaten employees, customers and suppliers. Employers have effectively become first-responders to crises. They need pre-positioned experts to share information without delay with selective audiences about defined concerns.
I recently watched "They Were Expendable," John Ford's film about an American PT boat fleet during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Before Pearl Harbor, General Douglas MacArthur had divined that these wooden skiffs--fast and low profile--were ideal for lightning defense of an archipelago. It was on one of these boats that he escaped capture. Think of business as a dense archipelago, with a network of occupational risk experts communicating fast and accurately within it.
a Vermont-based consultant and writer, is the workers' comp columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
December 1, 2005
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