Genetic profiling has potential, says NIOSH's director.

Genetics On the Job

I am a fan of the movie "Minority Report," in which a trio of seers visualized violent crimes before they happened. Armed with infallible foreknowledge, pre-crime police swooped down to arrest criminals who had not yet committed their crimes. Once locked away, they would never commit them.

While the fictional pre-crime system did not probe the criminals' DNA, its work is akin to what may someday be done with occupational genetic profiling. We can see that gene therapy will revolutionize the treatment and prevention of hereditary diseases, but how should genetic factors be used in the workplace? This is a monumental question that safety and health professionals cannot ignore, NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard suggested during his speech at this year's American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Expo.

Howard spoke positively about genetic profiling's potential, although he acknowledged the issue is not viewed that way by labor unions or by workers generally. He listed four beneficial uses for profiling: to assess a worker's predisposition to illness in general; to assess predisposition to occupational injuries in particular and possibly exlude a worker from certain assignments or exposures, even if the exposures are below government limits; to support medical surveillance of workers; and to aid research on disease susceptibility.

The problem, of course, is that predisposition is not prediction. Someone with a higher susceptibility to a specific disease will not necessarily develop the disease; environmental factors are needed before the disease appears. Workers' opposition to genetic testing may be based for the most part on privacy concerns, but this "X factor" also is part of their unease and distrust of testing.

Howard's speech at AIHCE covered seven areas of "uncharted territory," including genetics, that await exploration by industrial hygienists. This should become a field of study for the IH community, he said, and then he made a prediction of his own: The issue of genetics at work will become much more important as the 21st Century rolls on.

This article originally appeared in the August 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

Download Center

HTML - No Current Item Deck
  • Safety Management Software - Free Demo

    IndustrySafe Safety Software’s comprehensive suite of modules help organizations to record and manage incidents, inspections, hazards, behavior based safety observations, and much more. Improve safety with an easy to use tool for tracking, notifying and reporting on key safety data.

  • Create Flexible Safety Dashboards

    IndustrySafe’s Dashboard Module allows organizations allows you to easily create and view safety KPIs to help you make informed business decisions. Our best of breed default indicators can also save you valuable time and effort in monitoring safety metrics.

  • Schedule and Record Observations

    IndustrySafe's Observations module allows managers, supervisors, and employees to conduct observations on employees involved in safety critical behavior. IndustrySafe’s pre-built BBS checklists may be used as is, or can be customized to better suit the needs of your organization.

  • Why Is Near Miss Reporting Important?

    A near miss is an accident that's waiting to happen. Learn how to investigate these close calls and prevent more serious incidents from occurring in the future.

  • Get the Ultimate Guide to Safety Training

    When it comes to safety training, no matter the industry, there are always questions regarding requirements and certifications. We’ve put together a guide on key safety training topics, requirements for certifications, and answers to common FAQs.

  • Industry Safe
comments powered by Disqus

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - June 2019

    June 2019

    Featuring:

    • ASSP SAFETY 2019 PREVIEW
      New Orleans Networking
    • NATION SAFETY MONTH
      Heed These Summer Safety Tips
    • TRAINING
      Education, Skill Development, and Behavior Change
    • SAFETY MANAGEMENT
      What Good Looks Like
    View This Issue

Bulwark Quiz