Health portal offers new resource for Montana workers

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The Montana Department of Labor and Industry recently launched a new portal to provide information on workplace health and safety in an effort to make Montana’s workplaces more safe.

“The goal of [the department] continues to be making sure our workforce comes home safely every day after their shifts end,” said Julia Brennan, epidemiologist for the Department of Labor and Industry. “Although, Montana’s occupational injury and illness rates slowly but steadily continue to improve, we still have plenty of work ahead to keep the workforce safe.”

The Montana Occupational Health and Safety Surveillance website is a platform for recent reports on cases of workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities in Montana. The website also offers resources and tools for improving workplace health and safety, including news concerning workplace health and safety issues, and data from occupational health studies and information on injury and illness trends and risk factors.

“People can now access practical, up-to-date information on workforce health and safety issues,” Brennan said. “At this ‘one-stop shop,’ the public can access practical information to improve workplace safety.”

Work on the portal first began in October of last year in response to requests from employers and employees asking for a resource to find health and safety information that’s updated regularly. The portal, which was funded by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, is the first in Montana to offer an up-to-date platform for people to access the information.

Brennan said that other states have similar websites, but that Montana’s new portal takes a more customer-focused interface, using reports and presentations to provide information. Brennan added that before the portal was launched, there was no online state government resource that stored the data specific to health and safety.

“Every day, Montana’s workforce faces daily choices about their workplace safety. The Montana Department of Labor and Industry wants to prevent all types of work-related injuries from occurring, from slips, trips and falls to concussions,” Brennan said. “Part of improving Montana’s workplace safety is through up-to-date data to educate workers and businesses. This new web portal provides this new tool for Montanans to pro-actively improve their workplace safety culture.

“With this new portal, the department and MOHSS are striving to keep Montanans informed about health and safety issues, education opportunities, and tools to make going to work safer.”

The portal also offers a more detail look at health and safety issues as they are relevant to a specific industry, Brennan said.

With the launch of the new portal, Brennan has also released a report, “Occupational Health Indicators: Montana 2004-2014,” which documents a decade’s worth of workplace related injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the state, such as work-related burns, carpal tunnel syndrome, pneumoconiosis, pesticide-associated illnesses and elevated blood lead levels, as well as information on the number, length and average dollar amounts of workers’ compensation claims. In her report, Brennan also offers conclusions and recommendations for how to improve workplace health and safety.

Brennan notes in her report that the “Big Four” industries — construction, manufacturing, agriculture and health care — saw higher than average rates of non-fatal injuries in Montana during the 10-year period. Continued research and awareness is needed in these industries, she wrote.

“We hope to collaborate with agencies, organizations, and other stakeholders to make meaningful and practical strides in reducing workplace injuries and fatalities in these specific industries,” Brennan wrote.

In a look at Montana’s workforce, the report also found that Montana has a much higher percentage of workers employed in industries and occupations with high risk of death than the overall United States.

According to the report, in 2013, just over 25 percent of workers in Montana were employed in high-risk industries, while 15.4 percent national workers were employed in high-risk industries — with the top industries with high risk of death in 2013 including: construction, with 34,430 workers, animal production, with 18,807 workers, truck transportation, with 7,253 workers, and crop production, 6,963 workers.

According to the report, over 50 percent of all work-related fatalities in Montana involved transportation incidents in the last decade — a trend seen throughout various industries.

“We could greatly reduce the injuries and fatalities due to transportation issues if workers and employers adopted practices that emphasized transportation safety, such as encouraging seatbelt use and driving at safe speeds,” the report stated.

The report also recommended that an effort be made to emphasize worker safety among younger workers.

“Safety training and safety culture should be especially tailored to Montana’s young worker population. As more young workers rise to fill in employment gaps created by an aging workforce, Montana has a responsibility to make sure that these workers have thorough safety training available and a culture of safety to welcome them into the Montana workforce,” Brennan wrote, noting that research states younger workers may be faced with different challenges than their more experienced coworkers.

To read the full report and to visit the new Montana Occupation Health and Safety Surveillance website, go to www.mtworkerhealth.com.

Reporter Alyssa Gray may be reached at 758-4433 or by email at agray@dailyinterlake.com.

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