News Release

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Program will train first responders and hazardous waste workers on infectious disease safety

A training program will help approximately 35,000 first responders and workers, whose jobs may expose them to infectious diseases, protect themselves while also minimizing the spread of disease to others. The three-year, $9 million program is being launched by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal agencies.

“A few years ago, very few of us had heard of diseases like Ebola or Zika,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., NIEHS director. “We need to ensure that we have a workforce ready to contain these and the next infectious disease threats. This new training program will help workers, who do so much to protect others, stay safe when working with patients or people in high risk situations.”

“We need to ensure that we have a workforce ready to contain these and the next infectious disease threats.”

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., Director, NIEHS

The NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP) will oversee the Ebola Biosafety and Infectious Disease Response Training, which will educate health care workers, as well as personnel in waste management, transportation, mortuaries, and other occupations with the potential for infectious disease exposure. The environmental infection control practices and hazard recognition skills taught will be applicable to any high risk infectious disease that can be easily transmitted person to person and may result in high mortality rates.

“When we think of occupations that may be exposed to infectious disease, airport workers or custodial employees may not initially come to mind,” said Joseph “Chip” Hughes, Ph.D., WTP director. “Yet all of these occupations have an important role in minimizing disease transmission, and they need to know how to protect themselves so they don’t get infected or spread diseases to their families or communities.”

The need for curriculum development and training was identified during a 2014 Institute of Medicine workshop about Ebola virus. In addition to NIH and CDC, other federal partners include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  

“Ensuring training and competency of workers in a variety of settings is a critical safety net in preparing for emerging infectious disease threats,” said Beth Bell, M.D., director of the CDC National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. “We are pleased to be partnering with NIH and their grantees to fill this training need.”

For more than 25 years, WTP has offered health and safety training to workers exposed to hazardous materials, including dangerous biohazards. WTP also provides important worker safety guidance during national and regional disasters. Training over 160,000 workers annually, WTP-funded organizations use small-group, hands-on instruction and train-the-trainer models to build local programs that can provide training to hazardous material workers, first responders, and disaster recovery volunteers, as needed. The new infectious disease program will use this same model.

Grants will go to eight organizations that have the capacity to provide geographically distributed training for a range of occupations.

  • Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, led by Richard Frothingham, M.D.
  • Emory University, Atlanta, led by Alexander Isakov, M.D.
  • Indiana University Bloomington, led by Shawn Gibbs, Ph.D.
  • International Chemical Workers Union Council, Cincinnati, led by Frank Cyphers
  • Laborers’ International Union of North America Education and Training Fund, Pomfret Center, Connecticut, led by John LeConche
  • Rutgers School of Public Health, Piscataway, New Jersey, led by Mitchel Rosen, Ph.D.
  • Steelworkers Charitable and Educational Organization, Pittsburgh, led by James Frederick
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham, led by Lisa McCormick, Dr.P.H.

Grant Numbers:  UH4ES027072, UH4ES027093, UH4ES027055, UH4ES027073, UH4ES027069, UH4ES027019, UH4ES027003, UH4ES027070

NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health and is part of NIH. For more information on environmental health topics, visit Subscribe to one or more of the NIEHS news lists to stay current on NIEHS news, press releases, grant opportunities, training, events, and publications. For more information on the Worker Training Program, visit

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