Coal miner health exams lagging

Many U.S. coal miners aren’t receiving baseline screenings to monitor their health, even though companies are required by law to provide them. 

Researchers with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found in a study that chest radiographs and spirometry tests for coal miners newly entering the workforce are lagging. 

While the tests are required under U.S. occupational health regulations, only 80% of miners entering the workforce from 2014-2022 received initial radiographs and about 12% received radiographs at three years of work, according to the study, which was published April 24 in Occupational & Environmental Health. 

Compliance with spirometry testing — which measures lung function — was also low, with 17% of workers receiving their initial screening and fewer than 3% receiving follow-up screenings.

Chest radiograph requirements for U.S. coal miners entering the workforce have been in place since 1969, and spirometry screening was added in 2014. Regular surveillance is important for coal miners, who are at high risk for respiratory diseases such as lung cancer and pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease.

Hispanic, Black workers dying on the job at high rates

Almost 5,200 workers were killed on the job in the U.S. in 2021, with workers of color disproportionately represented, according to the AFL-CIO.

The labor federation’s annual “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” report found that 343 workers died each day from hazardous working conditions that year, translating to a rate of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers.

Continuing a trend, Hispanic employees were at greater risk of dying on the job than all workers. About 64% of the 1,130 Hispanic workers who died were immigrants. The Hispanic fatality rate was 25% higher than the national average, at 4.5 deaths per 100,000 workers.

More than 650 Black workers died on the job in 2021, the highest rate in more than a decade, translating to four deaths per 100,000 workers. For both Hispanic and Black workers, transportation-related incidents were the cause of most fatalities.

By occupation, the highest fatality rates were in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting category, followed by transportation and warehousing. Wyoming had the highest fatality rate, at 10.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, followed by North Dakota, Montana and Louisiana. 

Less green space drives higher neighborhood temperatures 

A lack of green space in Los Angeles’ low-income neighborhoods exposes residents to higher temperatures during heat waves, new research shows. 

Published April 28 in Science Advances, the study compared satellite data on city surface temperatures with household incomes. 

For every $10,000 decrease in annual household income, there was a marked increase in daytime surface temperatures, California Institute of Technology researchers found. On a day with an average of 68 degrees Fahrenheit, for example, that could translate to a 32-degree difference in surface temperatures between low- and high-income Los Angeles neighborhoods. 

Researchers concluded the main reason for the disparities is the higher level of cooling water evaporated by trees and other plant life in high-income neighborhoods.

Previous research has shown that people of color and those with low incomes tend to live in neighborhoods with highest risks during heat waves. To help drive down temperatures, researchers call for more drought-tolerant plants and reflective surfaces in vulnerable Los Angeles neighborhoods.

Acute kidney injury linked to air pollution

Long-term exposure to air pollution can be harmful for kidney health, an April study in Environmental Health Perspectives finds.

Researchers looked at data on more than 61 million Medicare enrollees, finding that air pollution levels of nitrogen dioxide, ozone and fine particulate matter were linked with hospitalizations for acute kidney injury. The relationship was found even at exposures below those set by National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

The southeastern U.S. had the highest levels of airborne fine particulate matter and the most frequent first hospitalizations for acute kidney injury. The highest nitrogen dioxide levels were in U.S. metropolitan areas and the highest ozone concentrations were in California.

Previous research has found that more than a quarter of patients with acute kidney injury, which is characterized by an abrupt decrease in kidney function, die within a year after they are hospitalized for the condition.

Abortion-ban states have fewer residency applicants

States that have banned abortion are seeing fewer medical students apply for residencies there, a recent analysis finds. 

Overall, the number of medical students applying for residency positions at hospitals and clinics fell by 2% during the 2022-2023 application process compared to the previous period. 

But in the 13 states with full abortion bans, the number of applicants fell by 3%, according to the analysis, which was released mid-April by the Association of American Medical Colleges. 

For obstetrics/gynecology, the year-over-year decrease in the number of medical students applying for residencies was starkest in the states with complete bans. Those states saw a 10.5% drop in applicants, compared to a 5.3% drop in states that did not have abortion restrictions.

Ultimately, all of the open obstetrics/gynecology residencies were filled during the 2022-2023 process. But careful monitoring will be needed in states with abortion bans to ensure they can attract qualified trainees and physicians going forward, the analysis said.

‘Dirty dozen’ employers put workers, communities at risk

Twelve employers have been flagged for repeated unsafe workplace practices by a national watchdog organization. 

Released April 26 by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, the “Dirty Dozen 2023” report documents trends in U.S. worker safety and calls out employers it finds most lacking. 

Among the most-prominent companies on the list are Amazon, Tesla Inc. and FedEx, each of which had on-the-job worker deaths in 2022. Other businesses include those involved in construction, sanitation and chemical production. The companies were called out for weather hazards, safety violations, sexual harassment, injuries and more. 

Norfolk Southern, which experienced a train derailment and chemical fire in East Palestine, Ohio, in February, was cited for having safety problems long before its recent incident. The company’s “precision scheduled railroading” policy cuts time for safety inspections and leads to longer and heavier trains on tracks, according to the report.

Overall U.S. workplace safety concerns cited in the report include rising child labor violations, continuing exposures to toxic substances, increases in serious workplace injuries and growing threats to workers from climate change.

The Watch is written by Michele Late, who has more than two decades of experience as a public-health journalist.