Tung-Sheng Shih, who has 27 years of experience in industrial hygiene, is the Chair of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in Taiwan. In this interview, Shih describes the methods, techniques and equipment IOSH uses to help reduce occupational injuries, disabilities and fatalities in Taiwan. He discusses the institute’s current research and development initiatives to better identify, treat and prevent occupational illnesses and ergonomic injuries, and he offers suggestions for improving safety and health management policies.
Please provide a brief overview of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in Taiwan and of your responsibilities as Chair.
The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is Taiwan’s top governmental occupational safety and health research body. It was established in August 1992 primarily to promote safety in the workplace through the application of science and technology, to survey and to analyze hazards in the working environment and to propose measures for improvement. My main responsibilities as Chair are to secure a sufficient budget to allow us to perform our assigned tasks, to communicate with our parent organization (the Council of Labor Affairs) and other organizations, such as the National Science Council, and to gather ideas from enterprises and labor unions about how we can direct our research toward the needed areas. Internally, I direct and supervise all of the research work in which IOSH is engaged. The vision of IOSH during my tenure is to incorporate Taiwan’s future into our work and to share the achievements of IOSH’s research and development with the international community.
Taiwan’s continued economic development and rising employment has led to the increased use of hazardous materials and more complex machinery in the workplace. In 2004, 38,443 workers in Taiwan suffered injuries, disabilities or death while on the job. Compared to last year’s results, has IOSH seen a decrease in worker injuries, disabilities and fatalities thus far in 2005?
Yes, we have witnessed an overall decline in 2005. In the first half of this year, injuries, disabilities and deaths totaled 18,070, a decrease from 18,250 in the corresponding period in 2004. Over the same period, the number of injuries (those that resulted in hospitalization for at least three days) actually increased slightly from 16,154 to 16,160. Permanent disabilities fell from 1,911 to 1,744, and deaths dropped from 185 to 166. While we are encouraged by these improvements, it is evident that we still have more work to do.
IOSH is currently developing technology to identify hazards, such as fires and explosions, that occur during plastic hardener batch reactions. What is the status of this research, and how will it improve the monitoring and control of major chemical and construction hazards?
This project has already been completed. Based on the results, we have revised the regulations to provide a self-compliance program for small- and medium-size enterprises, and we have mapped out a four-year plan (until 2008) to investigate the causes of chemical hazards that occur in batch reactors (such as fires, explosions, thermal explosions and toxic releases) in greater detail. Also, we have developed a specific quantitative checklist for exothermic batch reaction systems, and we have provided detailed and practical safety guidelines for these systems. These improvements are promoted among chemical enterprises through cooperation with the Chemical Industry Association. We also delivered the information to enterprises through the IOSH publication “Safety Alert” and published it on the IOSH website. This should substantially improve monitoring and control for the chemical industries of Taiwan.
To improve safety monitoring hardware and software for older equipment at chemical plants and construction sites, IOSH plans to:
What kinds of resources and methods will IOSH use to carry out the above tasks?
First, we will use quantitative risk analysis to help assess hazard risks at chemical plants and construction sites. Based on the results of this assessment, we will modify the existing emergency response plans. Second, we will use non-destructive techniques to inspect equipment at chemical plants and at construction sites. This work is facilitated by the fact that IOSH personnel are authorized to enter workplaces to conduct inspections at any time, and IOSH has a number of laboratories that can conduct testing in mechanical, construction, chemical and material safety. Also, we have close cooperation with outside academic and research institutions such as National Taiwan University, which helps us in this work.
We maintain a database on serious accidents and another one on claims for injury, permanent disability and death, which are submitted to the Bureau of Labor Insurance. These databases give us a good overview of occupational safety and health in Taiwan.
Furthermore, we routinely collect information on the latest techniques when performing the tasks mentioned above. All records of local routine inspections and injury identification investigations are sent to IOSH, so that we have the latest data on accidents and injuries that occur in the workplace and can conduct further analysis.
Due to our status as a government institute, the techniques we developed can be put into practice by state-run enterprises. To promote these techniques, we maintain good connections with industry unions and related associations.
What is your projected timeline to complete the above initiatives, and how will IOSH work with construction firms to ensure that they properly implement their safety and health management systems?
All of these initiatives will be implemented by 2008. In 2005, IOSH collected basic data on the risk of accidents and conducted inspections of construction firms to ensure compliance with safety regulations. From 2006 to 2007, we will integrate onsite information and transmit it to the monitoring center for validity testing and analysis. In 2007, we will encourage enterprises to use our research results to improve their work processes. For example, we will ask them to implement the monitoring and early-warning systems that we have developed. In 2008, we will develop risk-quantifying software to provide cost-benefit ratios for decision-making purposes. In addition, we will propose a simple and effective safety management system based on Taiwanese culture. We also offer economic incentives, such as reduced insurance premiums for companies that can demonstrate reduced risk, to encourage them to invest in safety measures.
To help identify, treat and prevent occupational illnesses, IOSH’s Analysis Methods Division has developed sampling and analytical methods, biological monitoring methods as well as new sampling techniques and equipment. Which methods, techniques or equipment do you believe have made the most positive impact on occupational health in Taiwan?
The division has developed more than 200 sampling and analytical methods for regulated hazardous substances that take into account the temperature and humidity effects in Taiwan. In addition, since 1998, the division has developed six new personal samplers that show the extent of health hazards for workers. All of these samplers can meet the respirable convention as prescribed by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and can induce the least shift of performance curve under heavy dust loading, which provides the most accurate measurement of atmospheric dust and gas components. Also, the samplers are small in volume, lightweight, airtight and easy to disassemble and clean with minimal interference from static electricity. Since free silica-induced pneumoconiosis and inorganic acid/base- and toluene di-isocyanate-induced asthma are the most concerned occupational diseases in Taiwan, these new patented size-selective samplers most impact occupational health in Taiwan.
IOSH’s Occupational Safety Division studies safety with respect to the mechanical, electrical, construction and chemical industries, and it also researches safety management policies. How do safety management policies affect injury and incident rates within each industry? In what ways can companies improve their own safety management policies?
In recent years, safety management policies have emphasized commitment by top management, development and implementation of occupational safety and health management systems and cooperation among workers, employers and government. Therefore, IOSH is currently developing a general guide for occupational safety and health management systems in reference to the 2001 International Labor Organization (ILO) occupational safety and health guide that covers enterprises, specific industries and nationwide application, and it will submit the guide to the Council of Labor Affairs as a national guide. Enterprises will be able to formulate safety improvement strategies and to develop individual occupational safety and health policies based on the guide.
In addition, IOSH believes that worker participation, education and training and the promotion of a safety culture are also ways in which companies can improve their safety management policies. Therefore, IOSH has developed a safety culture questionnaire and has established norms for the reference of the construction and steel industries.
This emphasis has resulted in a significant decrease in major occupational accident fatality rates over a four-year period. From 2000 through 2004, the fatality rate per thousand workers for industry as a whole dropped from 0.0969 to 0.0671, from 0.3227 to 0.2302 for the construction industry, from 0.0545 to 0.0342 for the manufacturing industry and from 0.527 to 0.516 for all other industries.
IOSH’s Occupational Hygiene Division evaluates and controls ergonomic hazards. What new methods or technologies is the division currently researching to prevent ergonomic injuries in the workplace?
Among IOSH’s new methods for preventing ergonomic injuries is the “Work-Field Monitoring Technology for Investigating Repetitive Strain Injuries in Upper Limbs,” one of the evaluation technologies IOSH recently developed. This technology will help us to better understand the causes of cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) and the interactions between hazard factors. To achieve this, a portable data logger and interactive data analysis software have been developed. The data logger is designed to record a worker’s heart rate, joint angles, repetitive frequency and magnitude of muscle exertion during working hours over a long period of time. After the recorded data is collected, the interactive data analysis software further processes it by automatically quantifying the ergonomic risk factors of the workers. As a matter of fact, several tests have been conducted and have proven that the data logger has great reliability and stability. In the near future, this technology can be applied in evaluating the performance of workers in a variety of occupations so as to reduce their occupational hazards.
Parallel to its research and development work on new methods and technologies, IOSH continuously dispatches personnel to factories to offer assistance and guidance in improving their real-time working conditions. IOSH will continue to use this two-pronged approach to better prevent ergonomic injuries in the workplace.
Fifteen IOSH-developed products have received patent approval. Which product(s) have most reduced occupational injuries and illnesses in Taiwan and worldwide?
One noteworthy product is our Exhaust Device for Anatomical Operation, which has received patent approval in the United States and in Taiwan. This system includes a laminar flow generator and a dissection table, and it uses air flow to generate a push-pull effect that fully removes a cadaver’s formalin vapors and unpleasant odors from the anatomical laboratory environment and prevents those vapors and odors from spreading and polluting the air. This reduces personnel’s exposure to a harmful working environment. Results show a favorable response from medical students, teachers and technicians and indicate that this system is effective in reducing concentrations of formalin and in alleviating feelings of discomfort during periods of exposure. The use of this equipment reduces the concentration of formaldehyde from 1.8-5 parts per million (ppm) before installation to just 0.12 ppm or less or even to undetectable levels. Most medical schools in Taiwan have adapted this equipment to reduce formaldehyde exposure.
IOSH has established basic safety and health databases for workers in Taiwan. Please explain how these databases work and what the benefits are of each.
The establishment of basic occupational safety and health databases provides a foundation for the long-term development of occupational safety and health technology in Taiwan. Building such databases requires intensive investments in human resources and funds, and their usefulness is difficult to ascertain in the short run.
All of the databases are maintained and updated routinely. As a result of careful research planning over the years, IOSH has established the following basic databases:
IOSH is developing an occupational injury and disease reporting system. What is the status of this project thus far, and how will the system be implemented in Taiwan upon its completion?
This is a sustained effort. We routinely collect the health examination records of workers who are exposed to lead, noise and to specific hazardous chemicals. We also monitor cases of occupational disease by analyzing the claim data for workers’ compensation provided by the Bureau of Labor Insurance. In addition, local inspection agencies’ investigation reports for serious occupational accidents are collected and transferred to IOSH to clarify the causes of injury events. Other agencies such as the Bureau of Health Promotion and the Bureau of National Health Insurance manage data on suspicious cases of occupational disease. IOSH takes part in routine monthly meetings with the other agencies to validate the overall amount of data delivered from different channels. Cases with abnormally high exposures are screened, and further field investigations are conducted to identify the possible sources of exposure. Through this procedure, more accurate occurrence rates of occupational disease can be calculated, and more effective preventive methods can be developed.
You worked in industrial hygiene for 27 years. How has that experience helped you in your position as Chair of IOSH?
I am lucky to have taken part in the long-term development of occupational safety and health practices in Taiwan ever since I was a junior researcher. For eight years, I was an inspector in charge of occupational health inspection work. After that, I acted as an official in the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, Taiwan’s equivalent of the United States’ Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for five years. Then I was promoted to Chief of IOSH’s Analysis Methods Division in 1992, and finally, I was appointed Chair in 2003. In all of these positions, I was able to accumulate plenty of practical experience, which is useful to me in my current job. I also had the opportunity to form friendships with most of the occupational safety and health researchers in Taiwan. They always provide constructive advice and share their valuable experiences with me, which is invaluable in our efforts to protect the health of our workers.
Tung-Sheng Shih is the Chair of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in Taiwan. Shih has 27 years of experience in industrial hygiene, and he has written 91 papers for Science Citation Index (SCI) journals, 67 papers for non-SCI journals and 91 conference papers. He also holds 15 patents.
In his professional career, Shih received the following honors:
2000—David L. Swift Award (co-author, American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exhibition)
2001-2004—Outstanding Research Award
2003—William P. Yant Award (American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exhibition)
2003—Outstanding Award on Occupational Disease Prevention
2004—Outstanding Contribution Award of Civil Servant
He holds bachelor degree in chemistry from National Taiwan Normal University, and obtains a master of science degree in chemical exposure assessment/control from National Tsing Hua University as well as a m aster of science/doctor of science degree in occupational health from Harvard University’s School of Public Health.