09/28/22: Past as Prologue: How the History of Occupational Illness and Injury Teaches Us about Where We are Today

Past as Prologue: How the History of Occupational Illness & Injury Teaches about Where We are Today

About the webinar:

The history of occupational illness and injury is fundamentally the story of how technological change modifies the ways in which the environment of employment puts workers at risk. Sometimes change makes the environment inherently safer, but all too often there are obvious and not-so-obvious hazards that accompany innovation. History teaches us that steam and pneumatic powered processes in the 19th century dramatically increased worker exposure to silica dust, bringing an epidemic of disease. It is not that silicosis, albeit poorly characterized, hadn’t been present long before, but it had never been on such a scale. Similarly, technological changes have driven the histories of various “trade palsies” as they evolved into modern repetitive strain injuries, from the metal pen nib causing scrivener’s palsy to wall-to-wall carpeting creating carpet layer’s knee to electronic mail sorters inducing carpal tunnel syndrome. History also teaches us how we need guard against the cyclical amnesia that characterizes the recurring recognition then apparent obliviousness and failure to control obvious hazards. Our current “surprise” at the resurgence of silicosis in the artificial stone industry, grinding a material that is nearly 100% crystalline silica, underscores this recurrent pattern. Finally, history teaches us how we should consider the lives and work of the leaders and pioneers of the discipline that we so often laud in the historical reviews. The stories of these figures should not be hagiographies, but rather need to show how these figures used their own experience paired with a critical reception of transmitted wisdom, to advance the field of occupational medicine. The history of occupational medicine is enriching. It is ignored at our own peril.

Learning Objectives

At the completion of this activity, the learner will be able to:

  • Describe ‘what’ history teaches us, and also ‘how’ history teaches us

  • Examine and gain insights through the ‘how’ of history to become more alert to the warning signs of newly emerging, novel hazards

  • Review and detect re-emerging, long-established hazards

Speaker: Paul D. Blanc, MD, MSPH

Dr. Paul D. Blanc, MD, MSPH holds the Endowed Chair in Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of California San Francisco. Blanc received his BA from Goddard College (Vermont), later training at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, and Cook County Hospital. He was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at UCSF (1985-7), a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev (1987-8), and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University (2013-4). Blanc has authored numerous scholarly publications and is the author of How Everyday Products Make People Sick (UC Press, 2009 (and Fake Silk: The Lethal History of Viscose Rayon (Yale, 2016).


The Center for Occupational and Environmental Health designates this activity for a maximum of 1.0 Contact Hour. Participants should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation.

Certificates of Completion

Certificates of Completion will be available to webinar participants who are present for the complete, live webinar, and logged in with their registered email address. Call-in attendees are not eligible for certificates at this time - Please download the Zoom app to log in via email on your smartphone whenever possible.

In order to receive your Certificate of Completion, qualified learners must complete the post-webinar evaluation within 7 days of the webinar. A link to the evaluation will be emailed to qualified learners 24 hours after the webinar via no-reply@zoom.us. Qualified learners who submit their evaluation will receive a Certificate of Completion via email, and can also print/save the certificate from their browser after submitting their evaluation.

If you're not able to attend the live presentation, no problem! We record most presentations and will host them on our website provided we have permission to do so. Presentation recordings are not eligible for Certificates of Completion.

California Labor Lab Logo

About the CA Labor Lab:

The California Labor Lab is a collaboration among investigators at UCSF, UC Berkeley, and the California Department of Public Health. The Lab is housed at the Philip R Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF. Our mission is to extend the pursuit of health and safety for workers in traditional employment to those in a wide range of alternative arrangements in partnership with affected communities.

Click here to learn more about the Labor Lab.


If you require an accommodation for effective communication (ASL interpreting/CART captioning, alternative media formats, etc.) to fully participate in this event, please contact Michelle Meyer at (510) 642-8365 or mmeyer@berkeley.edu(link sends e-mail) with as much advance notice as possible and at least 7-10 days in advance of the event.