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Telling the Stories Behind the Data

Posted By Robert Harrison and Laura Styles, Thursday, July 31, 2014
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As epidemiologists, we view and interpret a lot of data. It's our responsibility to take action on the surveillance we conduct. Public health professionals understand that each case, each dot on a map, each block on an epi curve represents an ill patient, a person who has died, or a worker who has been injured. To us, charts and tables and summary reports tell an important story, but for others, we have to make it more personal to make an impact.
The Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program is a case-based investigation program for the prevention of work-related injuries and illnesses. When workplace fatalities for landscape services increased in California and nationally from 2010 to 2012, we wanted to look closer. Data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) confirmed that tree trimmers' fatality rate is twice the national average for worker fatalities. There is also a high incidence of workplace injury in this industry, although not all workers report these injuries or receive medical treatment.
At the California Department of Public Health, Occupational Health Branch, we have created videos about worker safety and health issues in addition to fact sheets, fatality alerts and investigation reports. These videos are a new strategy in the California FACE program’s prevention effort – written findings and prevention recommendations are brought to life with video re-creations, photos from the investigation, interviews with co-workers and family members, and clear explanations of how these tragedies can be prevented.
One such video, "Preventing Palm Tree Trimmer Fatalities," tells the story of Roberto, a 35-year-old tree trimmer, who died of suffocation when the palm fronds he was cutting fell on him. The video also explains proper equipment and climbing techniques that prevent this type of hazard. We see these workers every day around our neighborhoods, and they perform one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. They often don't have adequate training, and several deaths due to falls, suffocation, and other causes have occurred in California and elsewhere.
Click here to view the video, Preventing Palm Tree Trimmer Fatalities.
The California FACE video uses digital storytelling techniques to create a different kind of narrative to communicate public health data and messages. The key messages for the video are conveyed through real people and a real story; the video shows the devastating impact of not using proper palm trimming equipment or climbing techniques on the job. We listened to those affected by this issue so we could tell their story respectfully. This approach makes occupational health personal and local for viewers and the public, in order to encourage safety and prevent deaths.
A lot of planning went in to creating the video itself. We created a storyboard as a roadmap for the video with planned narration, video, and photos. Production partners included the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and tree climbing and safety professionals. We sought to balance the emotional and the factual, the problem and the solution, and to create a compelling video that could be used in trainings and would tell Roberto’s story.
We have found this and our other workplace safety videos on YouTube to be an effective medium to reach our target audiences and make our surveillance data come alive for maximum public health impact. We hope you can use our experience to weave together data and narrative to tell an important story for your program.
Laura Styles is the California FACE Program Manager, and Robert Harrison is the Chief of the Occupational Health Surveillance and Evaluation Program at the California Department of Public Health, Occupational Health Branch.

Tags:  collaboration  data  member spotlight  occupational health 

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