News briefs

ExxonMobil: No cell calls in company cars

ExxonMobil Corp. has been lauded by the National Safety Council safety leadership in enacting a ban on cell phone use by ExxonMobil employees and contractors while they are driving on company business.

"ExxonMobil has again demonstrated its safety leadership by recognizing a significant driving hazard and acting to reduce this hazard for their thousands of employees and contractors who operate motor vehicles and travel on company business," said Alan C. McMillan, president of the National Safety Council.

The new policy was developed after ExxonMobil commissioned an analysis of available science on cell phone use that concluded talking on a cell phone significantly degrades driving performance. The ExxonMobil report analyzing cell phone research is available at www2.exxonmobil.com/corporate/files/corporate/Cell_Phone_Use_Study.pdf, or through the National Safety Council the National Safety Council web site, www.nsc.org.

The findings of negative effects of cell phone use on drivers, or "vehicle control degradation," cited in the ExxonMobil report include a delay in brake activation three times longer than the reaction deterioration found in drivers under the influence of alcohol; a fourfold increase in risk associated with the use of a cell phone while driving as compared to not using a cell phone; an increase in the relative risk of vehicle colli-sions similar to the hazard associated with driving with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit; and a diversion of the driver’s attention and situational awareness from driving environment and potential hazards that may unexpectedly impact safety during cell phone conversations.

"This action by ExxonMobil concurs with the policy of the National Safety Council that states that best practice is to not use a cell phone while driving," McMillan said. "The council’s policy also recommends that employers assess whether to allow employees to use cell phones and other devices while driving; and if so, what sensible restrictions should be followed."

ExxonMobil’s ban on cell phone use does not apply to commutes between a contractor’s or employee’s residence and work, even in a company car, or to calls made when the company car is parked in a safe location. ExxonMobil implemented the new policy in conjunction with the company’s recognition of National Safety Month in June.

Asbestos exposure is catching up with us

Decades in which unprotected American workers were exposed to asbestos are catching up with us, a federal health expert says. Deaths from asbestos exposure have surged in the United States and are expected to keep rising in the next decade as more workers succumb to the lung disease. The number of Americans who died of asbestosis, which is caused by inhalation of asbestos particles, jumped to 1,493 in 2000 from 77 in 1968, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The incurable disease, marked by shortness of breath and persistent cough and linked to a higher risk of cancer, now is a bigger killer than silicosis and black lung and the deadliest of all work-related respiratory illnesses.

The CDC warned that the death toll likely will continue rising because of the lag — often as much as 45 years — between initial exposure to asbestos fibers and death. "What we’re dealing with is a legacy of the past," says Michael Attfield, an epidemiologist at NIOSH and one of the study’s authors.

Prized for its heat resistance and insulation properties, asbestos was mined for use in U.S. shipyards and construction sites after World War II. Its use declined sharply in the 1980s after warnings about health risks. Attfield warns that asbestos-tainted materials still are in some factories, workplaces, and other buildings across the nation, posing a continued risk of exposure to occupants. Coastal states such as Alaska, Washington, Mississippi, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Maine are among those with the highest rates of asbestosis mortal- ity between 1982 and 2000, according to the CDC study, which analyzed data from death certificates.

The rise in asbestosis deaths has occurred amid a decline in mortality from other occupational lung diseases such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, or black lung, and silicosis. The death rate from silicosis and other unspecified pneumoconioses was 70% lower in men between 1982 and 2000 than in the 1968-1981 period. Male mortality due to black lung fell 36% over the same time periods.

NIOSH updates morbidity/ mortality reference

Cincinnati-based NIOSH has released an update of its 2000 reference, Worker Health Chartbook. The updated book, Worker Health Chartbook 2004, consolidates information from the network of injury and illness surveillance tracking systems in the United States, and is designed for agencies, organizations, employers, researchers, workers, and others who need to know about occupational injuries and illnesses. The document presents the data in an easy-to-read, visually compelling manner.

Worker Health Chartbook 2004 is a descriptive epidemiologic reference on occupational morbidity and mortality in the United States. The chartbook includes more than 400 figures and tables describing the magnitude, distribution, and trends of the nation's occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. The document is intended to fulfill the NIOSH strategic goals for preventing occupational injury and illness and to guide research and prevention efforts. The chartbook is available on-line in PDF format at www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/chartbook.