New technologies like 3D printing, ultraviolet disinfection, and nanobiotechnology were once used only by experts in specialized settings. Now they can be found just about anywhere, including the crosstown bus, the local mall, or in home health care.
But these new innovations come with risks, such as exposure to toxic chemicals. To help bridge the safety knowledge gap, researchers at Johns Hopkins University are leading a multi-institution team that is creating a comprehensive online training program titled Program on Occupational health and safety education on Emerging Technologies – Mid Atlantic Partnership, or POccETMAP, pronounced "pocket map." The team, which includes researchers from the University of Maryland, George Mason University, and Old Dominion University, is supported by a $1.34 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
"When you have emerging technologies, the health and safety issues are not immediately apparent even to health and safety professionals," says Gurumurthy "Ram" Ramachandran, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. "This is a way to train students and professionals on this innovative technology, the risks that they may pose, and how to mitigate those risks."
The product will comprise 50 hours of web-based training materials that foster the safe development and use of emerging technologies. The materials are aimed at students, university instructors, environmental health and safety professionals, workplace managers, sustainability managers, and public health workers.
The materials will be based on examples from four emerging technologies:
- Additive manufacturing: Ultrafine plastic polymer particles, metals, and biological molecules can be used to build things with 3D technology. Those agents pose a hazard to workers and consumers.
- Disinfection technologies: Because of the pandemic, a lot of novel disinfection technologies like ozone and ultraviolet light are being used in new places. For example, ozone is used in trains, buses, restaurants, and grocery stores.
- Nanobiotechnology: Particles that are one-billionth of a meter, or slightly larger than the largest molecules, can deliver targeted, potent treatments for diseases like cancer. Sometimes they are administered in home settings by nurses or family members who may not be trained in this very advanced technology.
- E-cigarettes: When a user heats up the vaping liquid in an e-cigarette, the metal it is encased in also gets vaporized, and users breathe that in. This metal is toxic.
The teams will use these examples across five core areas of focus: sustainable production, detection technologies, exposure assessment, disaster preparedness, and vulnerable populations. Each core will contain 10 web-based modules with short, narrated screencasts, animations, exercises, and activities. All materials will be free and available online, ensuring that the POccETMAP Program has a regional, national, and global reach.
"There are a lot of people who are not educated in what safety precautions to take, and suddenly there is this gadget in their hand in the workplace," says Ramachandran. "We hope to give people the knowledge and tools they need to safely take full advantage of these new technologies."
Department faculty who are participating include: Dan Barnett, Meghan Davis, Peter DeCarlo, Carsten Prasse, Lesliam Quiros-Alcala, and Ana Rule.