A Total Worker Health Approach to Skin Exposure Assessment: Experiences From the Firefighter Cancer Initiative


Increasing scientific evidence suggests that addressing complex, wide-ranging concerns among worker populations should include the integration of traditional occupational safety and health with often siloed worksite wellness programs. The Total Worker Health (TWH) approach developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health can support skin cancer prevention efforts by integrating organizational-level policies, programs, and practices that strategically merge both skin protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of skin illness prevention efforts. In the firefighter workforce, epidemiologic studies suggest an increased risk of skin cancer despite the use of personal protective equipment during fire incident response. Mechanisms for dermal absorption of carcinogenic compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have given insight into how these hazardous chemicals can enter the skin and increase cancer risk. Mitigation of carcinogenic exposures requires a TWH approach that merges skin protection and promotion, routine surveillance, skin health assessment, worksite-based interventions, and regular evaluation of program activities. In this commentary, an example of a TWH approach is provided from the Firefighter Cancer Initiative (FCI), a transdisciplinary initiative focused at addressing excess burden of cancer in the firefighter workforce. The FCI builds on the TWH approach through the following components: (i) organizational leadership commitment; (ii) elimination of workplace hazards and promotion of worker well-being; (iii) engagement of workers in program design and delivery; (iv) ensuring confidentiality and privacy in program participation; and (v) integrating systems effectively. Occupational hygienists have strong potential to play a crucial role beyond traditional risk assessment, exposure assessment, and health protection that further includes skin health promotion and integration of related programs into a TWH framework.

Authors: Alberto J Caban-Martinez, Jeff Hughes, Christopher Bator
; Full Source: Annals of work exposures and health 2020 Jul 3;wxaa066. doi: 10.1093/annweh/wxaa066.