The Dorchester Occupational Health Initiative

The Dorchester Occupational Health Initiative

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The Dorchester Occupational Health Initiative (DOHI) was a partnership among the Vietnamese-American Initiative for Development (Viet-AID), a community-based organization; MassCOSH; UML; the Bowdoin Street and Codman Square Health Centers (primary health care providers); New Ecology Inc, a nonprofit consultant organization; the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center; and the Cape Verdean organization UNIDO. The project aimed at assessing the occupational health needs of low-income and immigrant communities in Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston.

Vietnamese floor finishers became the major target of the project after fatal fires killed 3 of them and led to 4 serious burns in 2004–2005. As a result, the partnership developed a campaign to prevent fatal fires and other hazards affecting Vietnamese immigrants in the hardwood floor finishing industry. One of the main components of the program was the creation of an ad-hoc Floor-Finishing Safety Task Force, which included manufacturers of oil-based products that are not flammable.

The Task Force issued the September 2005 report “Protecting Workers and Homeowners from Wood-Floor Finishing Hazards in Massachusetts”6 that summarized data about the industry, the fire, health effects of the solvents used in floor-finishing, and water-based alternatives to the flammable solvents. The report also provided a set of detailed recommendations for the state of Massachusetts, such as the establishment of a licensing program for floor-refinishing businesses; the promotion of tax incentives, low-interest loans, and grants to encourage the use of safe and healthier floor-finishing products; and development, in partnership with Project DOHI, of culturally and linguistically appropriate training materials.

The Floor-Finishing Safety Task Force presented a strong consensus position on eliminating the use of flammable finishing products, most notably lacquer sealers. The Task Force filed 2 pieces of legislation with the Massachusetts legislature: one requiring the certification of floor-finishers, which would require day-long safety training plus use of a posted safety checklist and mandatory information sheets to consumers, and another to ban the use of flammable products in floor finishing.

The project launched a media outreach campaign targeting Vietnamese-American floor-finishers in Dorchester aimed at increasing their awareness about occupational and environmental hazards and recruiting them to attend health and safety training. The media campaign included participation in Vietnamese public affairs television shows, radio announcements, and regular newspaper columns in 2 ethnic papers, combined with brochures, posters, and a Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Alert. The innovative approaches to crafting and disseminating outreach messages and the design of training successfully involved large numbers of immigrant floor-finishers to promote a reduction in use of flammable lacquer sealers and increase the sales of nonfire, safe cigarettes. By April 2007, about 39 Vietnamese workers had attended trainings in the use of water-based and very-low-volatile organic compound oil-based products. The trainings were hands-on and participatory and led by certified master floor-finishers, including one Vietnamese immigrant.

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Articles from American Journal of Public Health are provided here courtesy of American Public Health Association

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