Communicating Risks After Exposure has Ended: Former Workers' Perspectives on PCBs
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.NEW SOLUTIONS A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy 07/2013; 23(2):347-67. DOI: 10.2190/NS.23.2.i
While the importance of worker notification has been widely recognized, little attention has been paid to social and psychological contexts in which worker notification occurs, especially after the exposure has ended. This study explores workers' perspectives on exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a toxic material whose manufacture in the United States ended in 1977. Four focus groups were conducted with former workers (n = 29) who were exposed to PCBs. Verbatim transcriptions were analyzed. Participants considered living in the PCB-contaminated community more dangerous than handling PCBs on the job. While they firmly believed that PCBs in the environment caused serious health problems, participants expressed doubts about the toxicity of PCBs in the workplace. Both beliefs undermined the value of worker notification about occupational exposure to PCBs. A long-term relationship between workers and researchers would provide opportunities to cultivate better understanding of the hazard and facilitate the process of worker notification.
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ABSTRACT: Researchers are slowly acknowledging an ethical obligation to inform research participants about study findings. Research notification may help participants become aware of and manage potential health risks. Scholars and practitioners have acknowledged the need for better understanding of this process. This study investigates transcripts of focus groups conducted to gauge audience reactions to notification materials that communicate scientific research findings about occupational exposures. Focus groups are a useful way to tailor notification materials to audiences, but we caution that transmission models of communication used in risk research may obscure the full value of focus groups. The emphasis on translating scientific communication into "lay" language may overlook how scientists and lay audiences can work together to bridge differences in language, experiences, goals, and orientations toward health. This study demonstrates limitations in scientific risk communication that minimize participation in communicating science. The conclusion provides instructive insights for strengthening the process of communicating science.
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