The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) intends to continue its long and successful collaborative relationship with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. In conjunction with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Public Health, NJDOH proposes to use this funding opportunity as a means to build a stronger capacity to conduct occupational health assessments during natural and manmade disasters in order to reduce or eliminate adverse health impacts, identify gaps in existing data sources, and provide recommendations for educational and outreach materials. This project's first aim, through retrospective analyses of several uniquely available statewide data sources on medical care and from public health surveillance systems, will summarize work-related injuries and acute illnesses in New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy, and evaluate strategies for use and improvement of existing data systems for surveillance of work-related health effects. Linked datasets will be analyzed to estimate the increase in work-related injuries and acute illnesses (poisoning, asthma) associated with the onset and aftermath of Superstorm Sandy over time. The analysis will compare the incidence and proportion of possibly work-related outcomes in 2012-2013 to previous years, evaluating the importance of injury type, characteristics of affected individuals, and location of work in relation to storm conditions. The project team will qualitatively compare the results in the above mentioned datasets with other sources of data on injuries and illnesses from the same timeframe, including the New Jersey Poison Control Center, the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, and the New Jersey Syndromic Surveillance System. Upon completion of the data analyses, recommendations to improve current datasets;guidance for using these data sources;and recommendations for designing an optimal data system to pool data from different existing data sources during a natural disaster will be developed.
The second aim i s to develop a focus group guide and conduct focus groups among three target groups: EMS, tree care workers, and Red Cross volunteers. These focus groups will characterize the physical and mental health outcomes among the three target groups;elucidate similarities and differences between "regular" day-to-day job tasks versus "emergency" job tasks;and identify possible exposures to various contaminants. Based on the results of the focus groups, the researchers will develop and administer surveys to a larger population of the three target groups. These surveys will identify various exposures to contaminants;describe the availability and use of PPEs and other safety equipment;and characterize the physical and mental health outcomes. Key findings from this project will be used to inform and prioritize tasks related to the New Jersey NIOSH state-based surveillance grant activities beyond the two years of this proposed project. Using this mechanism to translate the proposed project's findings affords NJDOH the opportunity to capitalize on existing, limited resources, while simultaneously translating the research findings into practice, perhaps via factsheets and other educational outreach materials.
Work-related fatal and nonfatal injuries and acute illnesses as a result of natural disasters are serious public health concerns. Evaluating the ability of existin surveillance data sources can enhance the classification and capture of work-related injuries and fatalities during a natural disaster. Characterizing specific worker populations and specific types of work-related injuries will assist in setting priorities and identifying targets for interventions and injury prevention efforts during similar events.