Human Science Professor to Serve on NASEM Committee on Respiratory Protection

Posted in News Story

November 6, 2020 – Dr. Rosemary Sokas, professor of human science at the School of Nursing & Health Studies, has been invited to serve on the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Respiratory Protection for the Public and Workers without Respiratory Protection Programs at their Workplace.

(Learn more about the committee.)

Dr. Rosemary Sokas poses in a official portrait style photograph
Dr. Rosemary Sokas

Sokas is a physician who, prior to coming to Georgetown, served as director of the Office of Occupational Medicine at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the associate director for science at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Clyde J. Behney, executive director of the health and medicine division, noted that, “The formal charge to the committee is to examine and consider processes for ensuring effective and appropriate respiratory protection for individuals facing inhalation hazards beyond traditional workplaces, including from respiratory hazards during public health emergencies given the existing U.S. infrastructure.”

‘Inhalation Hazards’

“These inhalation hazards would include those associated with severe air pollution, wildfires, pandemics such as COVID-19, and other disasters and public health emergencies,” Behney added. “Regulatory approaches to meeting respiratory protection needs will be explored for a broader range of workers who typically do not have respiratory protection programs in place, as well as for the general public, including vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and people with respiratory or cardiovascular disease.”

Sokas said she is grateful to have the opportunity to share her academic expertise and government experience at NIOSH and OSHA with the committee as it deliberates.

“The problem is most severe among the most vulnerable segments of our population,” Sokas said. “I’m looking forward to bringing my past government experience, my research with underserved working populations in agriculture, construction day labor, and home care, and our Jesuit values to the work of the committee.”  

Protecting Workers and the Public

“The goal of this study is to identify procedures to ensure that respiratory protection used by the general public will be safe and effective,” Sokas said. “Remember that this type of protection is a last resort for workers when engineering and administrative controls are not sufficient. It is both challenging and heartbreaking to consider its use among children, but wildfire smoke and pandemic illness leave us no choice.”

The committee begins its work this month and will continue through 2022. 

Editor’s Note: “. . . [M]embers of National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committees represent only themselves in the committee’s deliberative process and not their affiliated organizations or other groups.”