NIH News Release
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 29, 1999
NIEHS Contact: Tom Hawkins,
(919) 541-1402

NIEHS Urges Safety Workers to Prepare For Y2K False Alarms and Malfunctions

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' Worker Education and Training Program said today that safety and contamination clean-up workers should make Y2K computer checks to prevent false alarms at the beginning of the Year 2000 -- or the possibility of alarm failures in truly hazardous situations.

But the program said that safety workers should also prepare for some malfunctions to occur anyway -- from alarms that fail to elevators and decontamination equipment that won't work.

NIEHS Director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., said, "This is an effort to assure that everyone has a safe New Year --- especially the chemical workers at hazardous facilities and the emergency responders who will be on duty, for our protection, on New Year's Eve and at the start of the new millennium."

Training Program Director Joseph T. Hughes Jr. said, "Prevention is best but safety teams can also benefit from an awareness that some problems may still slip by."

The NIEHS warnings are part of a new safety awareness handbook, training course and resource materials designed to help workers, employers and emergency responders prepare for potential health and safety risks associated with the Year 2000 computer problem. NIEHS runs the Superfund training of emergency workers within police and fire departments, the transportation industry and elsewhere that are sent to contain spills and establish safety in chemical or nuclear accidents.

The course targets specific risks for workers in a variety of sectors including chemical and industrial facilities, the construction trades, the health care industry, hazardous materials related fields, and emergency response activities. The Y2k awareness materials include a handbook with an overview of who and what the Y2K problem could potentially impact, an update of the state of individual industries' Y2K compliance, an outline of how the problem might effect different workplaces, as well as measures workers can take to safeguard themselves, their facilities and their communities.

The NIEHS Year 2000 Worker Awareness Handbook and associated training resource materials are available for free download from the Internet at: http://204.177.120.20/wetp/clear/y2k/y2kcourse/y2kcoursemain.htm or http://www.niehs.nih.gov/wetp , by emailing wetp@niehs.nih.gov, or by calling 919-541-0303 or 301-571-4226.

NIEHS has also recently provided supplemental funding to carry out Y2k awareness training in high risk occupations through the International Association of Firefighters, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the International Chemical Workers Union Council and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

NIEHS developed its materials in response to health and safety concerns raised during the past year by the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, the President's Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The training is aimed at workplaces that could potentially be compromised by the Year 2000 computer problems: chemical plant operations, oil refining and processing, electrical generation plants, water treatment and distribution, transportation, communications systems, hospitals, and 911 and emergency services.

Potential problem areas in any industry might include elevators, building alarms, radios and mobile phones, fire suppression systems, chemical storage tank relief valves, operating room equipment, decontamination equipment, and process control and environmental monitoring equipment.

NIEHS said any companies, municipalities and counties that have not assessed their Y2K problems or developed plans for dealing with potential health and safety consequences should waste no further time in doing so.

According to the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, although progress is being made daily in making sure systems are Y2K compliant, failures may still occur. The goal of the NIEHS supported Year 2000 awareness training materials is to inform business owners, managers and workers who may be on duty during the millennium rollover and to help empower them to take the measures necessary to protect themselves, their facilities and their communities.

The Y2K Awareness course has been developed to be added to an existing training program, presented as a stand alone course -- or taken as a self study course through the Internet.

For technical information, workers and employers may contact: Joseph T. Hughes Jr., director, NIEHS WETP, 919-541-0303, email: wetp@niehs.nih.gov or visit the NIEHS WETP Web Page at: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/wetp Or Ruth Ruttenberg, 301-571-4226, e-mail: rra@rra.dgsys.com. or visit the Clearinghouse web page at: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/wetp/clear.htm