Spotlight

The BCEOHRN Spotlight: Kay Teschke and Meghan Winters

In this issue, we interview two researchers: Kay Teschke and Meghan Winters, both of whom will be present to provide expert discussion at the BCEOHRN Loves Bikes event on May 31, 2016!

KTeschke

MWinters

Please describe your joint research interests for the BCEOHRN membership:
The impact of transportation infrastructure on cycling ridership and injuries.

How did you both become interested in this field of research?

Kay: I always enjoyed cycling to work and for fun, but saw bicycling in a different light when my daughter was born. I started thinking about cycling safety through my public health / occupational hygiene lens. In North America, we seemed focused on post-crash injury mitigation via personal protective equipment (i.e., helmets). As a mother, I didn’t want my daughter to be in a collision in the first place. In 2004, I started a new program of research, “Cycling in Cities” that focuses on engineering route design instead.

Meghan: I have cycled since the start university, finding it was the fastest and cheapest way to get around in those frugal years. Over the years, with friends, family, and now little boys in tow, and a few major bike crashes and injuries, I came to realize the role that city design had in ensuring that people of all ages and abilities are actually able to make choices in how to get around.

What impact do you hope your research will have? 
Our research shows that bike route design makes a huge difference both to safety and to whether people are willing to cycle. People prefer routes away from car traffic, and these are also the safest routes. We hope that city planners and transportation engineers learn about our research so that they can implement separated bike lanes and other designs that welcome people to this fun and healthy mode of transport.

Please describe how you first met, your professional relationship over the years, and how it has impacted your careers:

Kay: I first met Meghan when she was a masters student and fellow in a CIHR-funded Strategic Training Program Bridging Public Health, Engineering and Policy research. Her master’s degree was on antibiotic resistance, but she did a couple of side projects on bicycling. I was hoping to find a great student who might be interested in my new area of research and was thrilled that she chose to join me as a doctoral student.

Meghan: Kay has provided unweilding support for me – first as an MSc student working in another research area, then as a PhD student, and continuing to this date as I navigate the seas of building an independent research program as an Assistant Professor at SFU. When I’m speaking with students considering graduate degrees they often ask me about my own experience in my PhD. I have the joy of saying I would give my PhD supervisor a 10/10 score – every long step of the way.

What is your #1 networking tip for others working in this field?

Kay: The transportation field has so many disciplines involved: engineering, planning, public health, epidemiology, economics, geography, psychology, and on and on. Reaching out across disciplines enriches the research in every way.

Meghan: I’d encourage people to reach out and take the time to build relationships. The people I made my first connections with in the early years of my PhD have also progressed in their careers – to other universities, or to leadership positions in municipalities and health authorities. In all of these conversations be sure to do a lot of listening: this is where you’ll learn what evidence gaps they face, and what opportunities might be in the pipeline for your own research.

Kay: Meghan has implemented both these tips. She’s a superb networker and her networks are definitely interdisciplinary. She has connections at the start of her career that I have not achieved in my entire career. This has resulted in both enriched research and many opportunities to link research to practice.

What’s next for your cycling research?

Kay: We are still publishing research from the injury study. A paper about injuries on streetcar and train tracks is under review. Meghan is leading a study on the new Vancouver public bike share program.

Meghan: Bike share will finally launch in 2016! I’m thrilled to be able to finally look at the health and transportation impacts of cycling in our city.

The BCEOHRN Spotlight: Glenys Webster

Newsletter Feature – The BCEOHRN Spotlight!

Our next researcher in the spotlight is Glenys Webster.  

Please describe your general research interests for the BCEOHRN membership:
I am interested in the connections between environmental chemical exposures and human health, especially during pregnancy and early childhood. I am currently investigating whether exposures to PFAS stain repellents and PBDE flame retardants in the womb are associated with ADHD-related behaviours in US and Canadian children. These chemicals are found in many household products and in the blood of nearly all Canadians. Other interests include autism, thyroid disruption, understanding how people are exposed to environmental chemicals, pondering how to model chemical mixtures and science communication.

What was the impetus behind this study: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/14-09589/?
This study examines the thyroid disrupting effects of PFASs in US adults. It follows up on previous findings from the Vancouver-based (and BCEOHRN-funded) CHirP Study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25019470), in which PFASs were associated with thyroid hormones in pregnant women, but only in those who also had elevated levels of TPOAb – a marker of an autoimmune thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s disease. We proposed a “multiple hits hypothesis” to explain these findings, postulating that people with multiple stressors to the thyroid system might be more vulnerable to PFAS-induced thyroid disruption than others. The current study tests this hypothesis in the US adult population.

How was the study funded?
My work was funded by postdoctoral fellowships through the Michael Smith Foundation of Health Research and CIHR.

What was the key result?
As hypothesized, we found PFASs were associated with thyroid hormones in US adults, but only in the subgroup with joint exposure to both high TPOAb and low iodine levels – 2 indicators of thyroid system stress. Approximately 1.3% of the US adult population, or 3 million adults, fall into this potentially-vulnerable subgroup.

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What impact do you hope it will have?
We hope this work will contribute to ongoing policy discussions about the regulation of PFASs and their replacement chemicals. More broadly, we hope it stimulates further thinking about how combinations of stressors affect vulnerability. Our findings suggest that there may be physiological “tipping points” beyond which the body is unable to compensate for the additional thyroid stress of PFASs. This idea may be applicable to other exposures, other sets of stressors, and other outcomes.

Who were your collaborators in BC and elsewhere?
The study team included Scott Venners, Bruce Lanphear and Nathalie Ste Marie (Simon Fraser University), Andre Mattman (St Paul’s Hospital), and Stephen Rauch (University of California, Berkeley).

What is your #1 networking tip for others working in this field?
Work on questions that excite you and don’t be shy! Reach out, share your ideas and enthusiasm with others, be curious, and listen well. There are many people who would be happy to help you.

What’s next for you?
I have just moved to Victoria and am excited to join the local research community and to help build further capacity for environmental health research in this beautiful city. I have many projects on the go, and am actively seeking a place to call my long-term research “home” (….speaking of networking!)

The BCEOHRN Spotlight: Matthew Wagstaff

Our first student in the spotlight is Matthew Wagstaff, an MSc-OEH (Occupational and Environmental Health) student in the UBC School of Population and Public Health (SPPH).

M_Wagstaff_small

What is your academic and/or professional background?
I graduated with a BSc from the UBC Combined Major in Science program in 2014 and worked in a number of diverse research assistant positions at UBC to gain academic experience during my undergrad. I first spent my Co-op terms working in Atmospheric Chemistry studying ice nucleation before working on a research program looking into the effects of a wood stove exchange program in Northern BC for the Occupational and Environmental Health division of SPPH, and finally studying spatial and temporal patterns with regards to coral bleaching in the central Pacific with the Geography department. 

Please describe your general research interests for the BCEOHRN membership:
At this stage in my career, my research interests are still very broad and I would like to be involved in everything! However I am mainly interested in identifying and quantifying environmental exposures and their impacts on surrounding communities.

How did you become interested in environmental/occupational health research?
I was first exposed to the field of environmental/occupational health research when I worked as a research assistant with the Occupational and Environmental Health division of SPPH in the summer of 2013. During this period I worked on a research project studying spatial and temporal patterns of PM2.5 in Quesnel and Smithers and looking into the effectiveness of a wood stove exchange program that had been implemented. I was fortunate enough to be given the responsibility of performing the mobile monitoring project with minimal support in the two cities. As I greatly enjoyed the position and found the other research going on around the program to be fascinating, I decided to come back and join the MSc-OEH program.

What role do you believe networking plays in career development?
I believe networking plays a crucial role in career development as, especially in small fields such as this, you will discover the majority of positions and opportunities available through contacts – as they may never be posted publicly. Networking in the way of discussing issues with peers in your field of research I feel is also invaluable in bringing fresh eyes to a problem and providing an interdisciplinary approach.

Who inspires you?
I am inspired by people who stand up for what they believe is right and ask questions rather than simply accepting what they are told. People who are passionate about their field of research also remind us to take a step back every now and again to look at the bigger picture to remember why we are involved in our fields.

What would you like to do in your career?
At this point, I don’t know exactly what I would like to do in my future career. I know that I’d like to work with environmental research, regulation and policy and know this is a varied field with lots of different opportunities which I’m looking forward to exploring.

The BCEOHRN Spotlight: Judy Village

Newsletter Feature – The BCEOHRN Spotlight!

The BCEOHRN Spotlight is a new feature that will be appearing regularly in BCEOHRN newsletters going forward. Based on suggestions from the membership, we will be interviewing BCEOHRN researchers and students and sharing their responses. We hope you enjoy getting to know other BCEOHRN members!

Our first researcher in the spotlight is Dr. Judy Village. She was recently awarded the Liberty Mutual Prize in Ergonomics for this paper: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00140139.2014.938128 

Please describe your general research interests for the BCEOHRN membership:
My research goal is the prevention and control of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace through the application of human factors and ergonomic (HFE) principles to the design of work, including work layout, equipment, design of job tasks, and the organization of work. Improving the understanding of what aspects of work contribute to injury can then lead to solutions for the prevention of further injuries. My research has involved a wide range of jobs and workplaces, including health care, custodial workers, construction workers, manufacturing, the forestry and wood products sector and mining. 

What was the impetus behind this study?
The study, which formed part of my PhD dissertation, was a 3-year longitudinal action research collaboration with BlackBerry Ltd. The goal of the study, working with engineers and ergonomists at the new product realization site, was to find ways to integrate human factors aspects into the design of their assembly production lines as new products were being ramped for production. The impetus behind the study was to learn how HFE principles could be applied proactively in assembly design for the primary prevention of worker injuries and inefficiencies. 

How was the study funded?
The study was funded in part by BlackBerry Ltd, and through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board in Ontario. Four students were involved, with additional funding through NSERC and MITACS. I was funded with an Alexander Graham Bell Scholarship through NSERC. 

What was the key result?
The main outcome of the study was a grounded theory that explained how human factors/ergonomics went from being a reactive, after-injury type of assessment performed within occupational health and safety, to becoming proactive HF targets enforced by Senior Directors of Engineering in each stage of the assembly design process. The theory proposed that when Ergonomists acclimated to the engineering design process, language and tools, and aligned their goals with that of the production engineers, they became a means to help improve business performance. At this point, Ergonomists are on the engineering team and Senior managers then wanted to hold their design engineers accountable for HFE. When engineering design tools were adapted to include HFE targets, and Senior managers recognized these targets would help achieve business goals, they held their engineers responsible for the HFE targets, thus locking HFE into the design process.

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How did you communicate the findings?
The study has resulted in 8 publications in scientific journals (one of which was nominated by publisher Taylor & Francis as one of the top 10 most popular articles of 2014), and 12 conference proceedings. The study was showcased as an invited keynote at the Association of Canadian Ergonomists (ACE) Annual Conference in Montreal in 2014, and was written in lay language for the popular American magazine “Industrial Engineer”. Recently, ACE hosted a full-day workshop based on the research to share with others common engineering design tools and ways to integrate HFE into early design of production systems.

What impact do you hope it will have?
What we learned applies to all occupational health fields who want engineers to design workplaces in ways that prevent health problems. When the Ergonomists shifted their goals from solely an injury focus, to one of helping engineers achieve their goals of designing efficient and effective production systems, there was far more interest in HFE. As Ergonomists, we need to learn more about strategic goals in the organization and how to align HFE with these goals. We also need to learn the design process, engineering tools and business improvement programs such as “lean manufacturing” such that we can integrate our principles into their processes to be most effective.

Who were your collaborators in BC and elsewhere?
The collaboration involved engineers and ergonomists from the Human Factors Engineering Laboratory of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department at Ryerson University in Toronto, and engineers and ergonomists at BlackBerry Ltd.

What is your #1 networking tip for others working in this field?
Go to conferences, talk about your work, learn about other people’s work and share commonalities.

What’s next for you?
I continue to teach the Ergonomics course in the SPPH and am looking for further opportunities for research and collaboration that improves the design of work and promotes healthy workers.