Salem - Aging Population An aging population, new and unknown hazards, and growing multicultural differences were some ofthe major themes and challenges identified at the “Workplace Health & Safety: Looking Forward to 2020” symposium, held in Portland recently.

John Howard, the newly appointed director of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), was the keynote speaker at the event. He talked about how employers will need to connect with and train the country’s growing immigrant population, many of whom are young students today, legally born in the U.S.

“You have to figure out a way to transcend that culture,” he said. “Many will want to retain their native language. That is a reality that will affect how we approach safety.”

Howard also discussed what he calls an “underground economy,” which includes day laborers, contract workers, and the growing number of self-employed. He said the nontraditional status of these workers presents interesting questions about their protections.

“Look at eBay,” Howard said. “You have independent sellers, who are not employees or contractors. EBay doesn’t pay them. In fact, they pay eBay.”

Exposure to unidentified, new technologies is another major concern for Howard.

“We have shirts that don’t require ironing and tennis balls that don’t lose their bounce,” he said, regarding the unknown nanoparticles that are used in the manufacturing process and whose hazards are not fully understood. “We need to figure out a way to protect these workers now.”

Pushing for the development of new structures to tackle these issues, Howard said, “I think if we are going to be in a better place in 2020, we have to do a lot of things.”