News & Events

MNA addresses government agency on health and safety concerns

MNA members and staff recently addressed researchers from the CDC/National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) about concerns for the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) for the next decade. Researchers and concerned workers, educators and union members and staff from across New England met in Lowell on March 20 at an all-day meeting hosted by the Univeristy of Massachusetts Lowell.

MNA members and staff at the NIOSH/National Occupational Research Agenda Town Hall Meeting at UMass Lowell on March 20. From left, Chris Pontus, Liz O’Connor, Tom Fuller, Jennie Belsanti, Peggy O’Malley, Evie Bain, Kathy Sperrazza and Noreen Hogan.

At this same meeting in 1996, several members of MNA—primarily nurses from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston—presented compelling testimony about latex allergies to the researchers. The result was the 1997 NIOSH alert, “Occupational Exposure to Natural Rubber Latex as a Hazard to the Health of Workers.” This alert highlighted the concerns of workers’ exposure to latex.

The activist nature of the nurses’ work in 1996 was repeatedly communicated to the health and safety staff at the MNA and, as a result, an all-out press was on to have MNA members bring their current concerns to the NIOSH meeting in Lowell.

Eight staff and volunteer members from the Congress on Health and Safety and the Workplace Violence and Abuse Prevention Task Force prepared and presented testimony. Several others submitted written testimony through the NIOSH Web site.

Kathy Sperrazza proposed focusing on prevention by conducting research in facilities that have successfully designed, implemented and are practicing comprehensive hazardous drug exposure prevention programs that reach workers in all potential exposure areas.

Speaking about the continued exposure of nurses and others to bloodborne pathogens, Liz O’Connor suggested NIOSH look at how facilities with good needlestick injury prevention programs have accomplished the elimination of backdoor purchasing, removing the unsafe devices from prepared procedure kits and bypassing purchasing contracts when necessary.

Tom Fuller, Evie Bain and Chris Pontus of the MNA addressed infectious diseases, hazardous drugs, and workplace violence as they relate to working hours and patient handling.

Noting shortcomings in observing and calculating health care worker exposure to infectious diseases, Tom Fuller stressed the need to involve industrial hygiene professionals in this work. He brought the lessons learned after the SARS epidemic and the related illnesses and death of health care workers by saying, “It was also determined after the fact that workers had an inadequate understanding of personal protective equipment and that there was a shortage of isolation equipment. Information about the disease was unavailable or poorly integrated. And there were few monitoring capabilities to survey the agent in the environment or workplace ….”

Chris Pontus proposed that research into causes and prevention of workplace violence address changes in scheduling practices, job redesign, and health protection programs for people working in jobs involving overtime and extended hours. She noted that when it comes to the health and safety of workers there are pockets of misunderstanding and voids in communication/knowledge throughout most health care organizations.

Evie Bain noted that many drugs have multiple uses and while they may be recognized as antineoplastic agents, thus hazardous in a chemotherapy unit, they are not recognized as such in other settings. Research into training programs related to hazard communication programs could then be transferred into NIOSH fact sheets and OSHA information bulletins that are used in educating workers and managers.

Jennie Belsanti, an MSN student at Regis College and an intern in the Health and Safety Division at MNA this semester, addressed the issue of occupational asthma (OA) and asked for research into the relationship of environmental cleaning agents and disinfectants in the increasing numbers of occupational asthma cases in adults—particularly those working in the healthcare industry.

Susan Vickory prepared testimony asking NIOSH to include in workplace violence prevention programs the practice of holding perpetrators of violence (in heath care settings) accountable for their actions. She noted that accountability drives changes in behavior and that perpetrators are held accountable in other work settings as well as in the community.

Written testimony was submitted by Terri Arthur asking for research into osteoarthritis in nurses and others in the health care industry in relation to the work environment, mainly long hours, inappropriate conditions, large work areas and cement floors. These conditions are not recognized as work-related injuries and therefore workers are on their own when payment is due for medical treatment and lost wages. She noted that nurses and others in the health care industry who would normally require this type of orthopedic surgery in their late 60s and 70s, are now requiring this surgery in their 50s. Hospital nurses are also developing osteoarthritis of the feet (from cement floors) and osteoarthritis of the back (from repetitive lifting).

Noreen Hogan addressed the issue of the underreporting workplace violence and asked that NIOSH develop reporting tools to assist workers in reporting incidents.
Gail Lenehan also submitted written testimony related to maintaining a focus on the hazards of latex gloves and the need for utilizing non-latex synthetic gloves to protect the health of nurses and patients alike.

Overall, participating MNA members felt as though this was a valuable opportunity in outlining their concerns in this very public forum.


Thomas P. Fuller, ScD, CIH, MSPH, MBA

Terri Arthur

Kathleen A. Sperrazza RN, MS

Evelyn I. Bain

Elizabeth O’Connor RN, BSN

Christine Pontus