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Public Health Graduate Students Lend A Hand to Risk Management

Graduate students in the School of Public Health collaborated with staff members from the Office of Risk Management in the Department of Environmental Safety, Sustainability & Risk (ESSR) this past semester on their class projects to analyze and make key recommendations about the workplace health and safety environment at the University of Maryland.

SPH students enrolled in the course Occupational Health (MIEH 780), worked with Katherine Cavanaugh, Manager, Occupational Safety & Health and Jennifer Rous, Assistant Director, Risk Management, to collect data and information in regards to noise dosimetry for Heating, Ventilation and Air Condition (HVAC) employees in Facilities Management and to assess styrene levels and ventilation in two campus 3D printing labs.

Student teams for each project were given the opportunity to conduct field observations, interview workers, monitor workplace exposures, and then present their findings at the end of the semester to their course professor, Dr. Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá, assistant professor of environmental health, and Risk Management staff.

“One of the main reasons I chose to attend UMD's School of Public Health was that its Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health focuses on applying our public health knowledge to current health issues,” said Kaley Beins, MPH ’18. “Dr. Quirós-Alcalá's class and the collaboration with ESSR really bridged the gap between theoretical knowledge and learning how to use that knowledge in a professional setting.” 

The objective for the noise dosimetry group was to monitor noise exposure levels of HVAC workers for a full workday to determine if their eight-hour time exceeded A-weighted decibel levels (dBA) as established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  Students evaluated hearing protection compliance during the workday, assessed general safety behaviors, and evaluated employee knowledge of hearing protection and noise exposure. They also identified occupational safety and health hazards at HVAC work sites and provided a comprehensive noise exposure report with recommendations on their findings.

UMD employs about 75 HVAC workers, who perform a variety of tasks while ensuring the proper function and operations of all system areas including air conditioning, refrigeration, heating, temperature control, plumbing, rigging and steam fitting, and electrical.

Recommendations provided by the students based on the noise exposure monitoring, analysis of noise monitoring data, interviews, and worksite observations included a thorough evaluation of campus ventilation systems, ensuring HVAC employees have two-way radios so they can contact fellow workers in case of an emergency, and continual monitoring of workers.

The second group of students monitored for styrene indoor air concentrations in two 3D printing labs on the University of Maryland campus: the MakerSpace in McKeldin Library and MakerBot Innovation Center in the Technology Advancement Program (TAP). Styrene is a chemical that may be emitted during the printing process.

The field of 3D printing is growing across multiple academic and occupational disciplines, but very little is known about the health and safety aspects of these areas. While they provide for collaborative learning opportunities, it is also important to address the potential health hazards posed by the printers to the campus community. The purpose of the project was to conduct active and passive air sampling monitoring for styrene to determine if the labs exceeded OSHA permissible exposure limits (PELs).  

Overall, students found that exposure limits for styrene in 3D printing labs did not exceed OSHA standards during the monitoring periods. However, it was determined that additional studies should be done at higher printing times such as midterms and finals to assess whether styrene levels exceed occupational health limits. It was also determined that if in the future, styrene levels do surpass OSHA regulations that enhanced ventilation systems in the printing labs could help reduce styrene air concentrations.

Additional recommendations included air quality sampling to monitor other volatile organic compounds and particulate matter emissions and identifying all of the 3D printing locations on campus to conduct more in depth sampling in these locations.

The projects were a great success thanks to the collaboration between students, faculty, and staff working together towards a common goal.

“The coolest part about this project was seeing the students get excited about the monitoring and industrial hygiene,” said Cavanaugh. “Getting to share our enthusiasm with people new to the career is an excellent service we can provide to the campus community.”

“These projects provide students with real-world experience in occupational health, and allow them to integrate and apply the course material,” said Dr. Quirós-Alcalá. “They provide students with marketable skills and exposes them to a field some didn’t even know existed. It’s exciting to watch the students apply their knowledge, interact with workers, and work together with UMD to promote worker health and safety on campus.”