Research

CARERC Gives UK Researchers Tools to Uncover Safety Concerns in the Workplace

Mira Mirzaian
Mira Mirzaian is an alumna of the UK College of Public Health and is currently an epidemiologist at the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC). Arden Barnes | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 13, 2022) — The Central Appalachian Regional Education and Research Center (CARERC) at the University of Kentucky is one of 18 university-based occupational safety and health training programs sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. UK College of Public Health alumna and current Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC) epidemiologist Mira Mirzaian saw CARERC as the boost she needed to kickstart her career in research.

Mirzaian became a CARERC trainee, and her research work and capstone project, “Workers′ compensation reported injuries among distillery industry workers, 2010–2019,” was recently published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

The study sought to identify the most frequent type, nature and cause of work-related injuries among distillery workers and the contributing factors for these events, to target interventions to reduce injuries.

CARERC Director Wayne T. Sanderson, Ph.D., who is also a faculty associate with KIPRC, said the center provided Mirzaian with a list of ideas. The idea for a distillery paper came from the center’s collaborations with the distillery industry, in particular the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits, housed in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment (CAFE). The Beam Institute promotes health and safety training in the distillery industry.

During their search of the literature, Sanderson said they found that no one had yet used workers’ compensation data to investigate distillery injuries. Using Kentucky data was an ideal choice because of the state’s status as a leading distillery spirits producer.

According to the data, a total of 974 first reports of injury (FROI) were recorded over the 10-year period Mirzaian focused on, with 908 of the injuries resulting in lost time, 65 resulting in no lost time and one resulting in death. The most common injuries reported were strains or tears, lacerations and contusions (33.4%, 14.7% and 13.5%, respectively). The most frequent anatomical sites of injury were the shoulders, fingers and low back area (11.8%, 11.4% and 8.9%, respectively). Barreling operation activities experienced the greatest frequency of work-related injury, at 28.5% of all FROIs. A seasonal peak of injuries was observed during May and June.

“Being able to work with a large data set like workers’ compensation FROI as well as cleaning the data, conducting a thorough analysis, and communicating the results of the research effectively were essential to my joining the injury epidemiology workforce,” said Mirzaian. “These skills allowed me to demonstrate career readiness, in turn assisting me in obtaining my job as an epidemiologist at KIPRC working with drug overdose data and recovery housing.”

Mirzaian’s report concludes that implementing ergonomic and safety solutions for transportation and work tasks associated with barreling operations may significantly reduce the rate of work-related injuries in distillery workers. It states that injury prevention interventions should target strain or tear injuries caused by repetitive motion or overexertion.

CARERC Assistant Director Steven R. Browning, Ph.D., said Mirzaian was creative in using the workers’ compensation data coupled with denominator (overall population) data about the workers in the distillery industry.

“A novel question was asked and KIPRC had the data to help address it,” said Browning, who is also a faculty associate with KIPRC and an associate professor at the UK College of Public Health. “The findings do mirror what many in the industry suspected. Certainly, the data reflect what those in the industry knew concerning the high-risk task with barreling operations.”

What is CARERC?

CARERC combines the academic resources of five colleges at UK and two colleges at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) to provide a fully equipped and recognized resource for occupational safety and health research and training in our region. Its goal is to prepare students for their future professions, so that when they enter the health and safety workforce, they are immediately ready to contribute to the mission.

“The focus of CARERC is on occupational safety and health training,” said Sanderson, who is also a professor at UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “Students develop skills in assessing, evaluating and controlling occupational injuries and diseases. The focus is on developing a wide variety of practical skills to solve problems and working in interdisciplinary teams, just as they will in the workplace.”

CARERC encompasses seven training cores: Occupational/Environmental Health Nursing (UK College of Nursing); Occupational Safety (at EKU); Industrial Hygiene (at EKU); Agricultural Safety and Health (in CAFE); Mining Safety and Health (UK College of Engineering); Occupational Athletic Training (UK College of Health Sciences); and Occupational Epidemiology (UK College of Public Health).

Sanderson added that 70% of the NIOSH funds go to support students (providing tuition, stipends, health insurance), support research, and provide travel funds for students to present their research at professional conferences. All students have the opportunity to present their research before graduation.

“Being a trainee of CARERC provided me life experiences and a knowledge of epidemiological and occupational health principles that I employ to this day,” Mirzaian said. “From being out in the field learning how to fell a tree safely, to being in the classroom learning how to calculate the concentration of air contaminants, I gained an understanding of how to critically appraise and manipulate data, basic scientific standards and practices, and how to work collaboratively on an interdisciplinary team. Overall, it provided me with a strong foundation for entering the injury prevention workforce.”

Mirzaian added that being a CARERC trainee gave her a unique chance to pursue higher education in her field of interest.

If a student is interested in being a CARERC trainee, contact the core directors at their respective college. The program funds only graduate students.

To read Mirzaian’s study, visit https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajim.23350. For more information on CARERC, visit www.uky.edu/erc/.

CARERC was established under the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Cooperative Agreement 1T42OH010278-01.

KIPRC is a unique partnership between the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) and the University of Kentucky College of Public Health. KIPRC serves both as an academic injury prevention research center and as the DPH’s designee or “bona fide agent” for statewide injury prevention and control.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.