National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

COVID-19 Workers get training to protect their own health

Newswise — Today, the National Institutes of Health will launch a new website with important educational resources for Coronavirus workers dealing with the spread of COVID-19. The initiative got underway after Congress passed a supplemental appropriation of $10 million on March 6 “for worker-based training to prevent and reduce exposure of hospital employees, emergency first responders, and other workers who are at risk of exposure to coronavirus through their work duties.” The law provided a total of $8.3 billion in emergency funding for certain Federal agencies to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

The worker-based training initiative is being led by NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which has a long-established Worker Training Program (WTP). The program awards grants for training and development of educational resources for employees in high risk occupations who serve the public during emergencies and who need skills to protect their own health as they are potentially exposed to dangerous pathogens, contaminated materials, or infected people. As a part of this effort the Worker Training Program also acts as a clearinghouse among grant recipients to broadly share the training and educational resources developed with the grant money.

Joseph “Chip” Hughes, who has led the NIEHS Worker Training Program for 31 years, said, “These men and women are so dedicated and as they work so hard to serve and protect the public during this COVID-19 pandemic, I want to make sure they know how to protect their own health too. We don’t need them getting sick or taking the virus back to their families or their communities.”

With this new supplemental funding from Congress, the NIEHS Worker Training Program is creating a COVID-19 virtual safety training initiative for frontline responders including emergency medical personnel, firefighters, law enforcement officers, environmental cleanup workers, high-risk custodial service workers, food processing and delivery workers, water and sewage treatment workers, sanitation workers, and health care facility employees.

The initial focus is to build a virtual safety training delivery platform in partnership with private sector e-learning companies with the capability to deliver synchronized just-in-time web-based training across the country in targeted high-risk industrial sectors. Additionally, a cadre of COVID-19 safety trainers and virtual safety advisors is being created to leverage the delivery of advanced training technology to frontline responders.

After learning of the special appropriation, NIEHS moved quickly to convene a national workshop in partnership with Emory Health Sciences Center on March 17. The workshop titled, “Protecting Infectious Disease Responders During the COVID-19 Outbreak,” used virtual meeting technology to bring together hundreds of the country’s infectious disease experts, nurses and health care providers, emergency response organizations and academic training centers to map out a web-based, technology-assisted training strategy to respond to the escalating need to ensure protections for COVID-19 responders, particularly in health care and emergency response services.

During a recent Congressional hearing on COVID-19 response, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., testified that “NIEHS has played a very critical role in training people who can deal with outbreaks.”  He noted the NIEHS Worker Training Program previously helped with the Ebola response.

NIEHS Worker Training Program grant recipients provided occupational safety training to workers during the anthrax attacks in 2001, the H5N1 outbreak in 2007, and the H1N1 avian influenza outbreak in 2009; mold remediation training following Hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012; and Ebola virus disease preparedness training 2013-2015. A list of program grantees is available at https://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/hazmat/awardees/index.cfm.

This COVID-19 virtual safety training program will be administered by NIEHS and was developed in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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About the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS): NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health and is part of the National Institutes of Health. For more information on NIEHS or environmental health topics, visit www.niehs.nih.gov or subscribe to a news list.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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