Jonghwa Oh

January 2021

Jonghwa Oh, PhD This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.Assistant Professor, Environmental Health Sciences

Broad research focus?

My main research goal is to improve occupational exposure assessment and control methods. General topics include the evaluation of workers' exposure to chemical agents (e.g., gases and vapors) and physical agents (e.g., noise, vibration, heat) and the development of customized personal protective equipment (PPE, e.g., safety eyewear and respirators) for modern workers.

What brought you to the UAB SOPH?

During my MS program in Environmental Engineering in Korea, I worked as a research assistant in a noise and vibration lab. One of my primary projects was to visually map the noise caused by roads and trains in several of Korea's major cities. At the time, this type of noise mapping was common in the European Union but was unexplored in most other places, including Korea. In the long-term, this work, along with other projects from our research group, resulted in changes in Korean noise and vibration regulations which recommend noise mapping as a part of environmental impact assessment and management. Through my work in this lab, I discovered my passion for environmental and occupational exposure assessment and I came to UAB to expand my knowledge and experience in occupational and environmental health.

An exciting ongoing project?

I am working on two really interesting projects right now. The first is examining exposure to hand-arm vibration which can lead to the development of hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), characterized by vascular, neurological, and musculoskeletal components. We are in the middle of a series of lab experiments assessing hand-arm vibration levels from hand-held power tools such as weed eaters and backpack blowers. There are many industries in which employees use these hand-held power tools on a daily basis (e.g., grounds maintenance and forestry industry personnel). However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not regulate occupational exposure to human vibration - there are only guidelines. This project will therefore fill a huge knowledge gap, potentially helping governmental agencies develop such regulations and manufacturers build less vibrating tools.

The second project involves the development of a 3D fit-matching application ("app") for safety eyewear. In terms of exposure control and mitigation (i.e., hierarchy of controls), PPEis the last resort because of its low efficiency, primarily caused by fit issues. To address this, we are working with 3D scanning technology to enhance protective eyewear fit in a diverse U.S. workforce. Briefly, we scan a participant's head with an existing 3D-scanning smartphone app and then use our software and database of safety eyewear to identify the eyewear that would provide the best fit, based on the participant?s facial dimensions. I have obtained pilot funding from NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) for this work and have submitted an R03 grant proposal to continue this project. This work was recently featured in the UAB eReporter and we are in the process of applying for a patent.

A favorite (self-authored) manuscript?

We recently conducted a pilot field study on food trucks in the Birmingham metropolitan area. Food truck environments are unique in that they have diverse thermal cooking appliances in a very confined space. For the study, we assessed cooking emissions for harmful air contaminants as well as the ventilation performance of exhaust hoods. We found that formaldehyde and respirable particulate matter concentrations were relatively high in certain samples. The exhaust flow rates were also below relevant ventilation guidelines. To our knowledge, this was the first such report on food truck environments. Based on our findings, we are planning to conduct a follow-up study with a larger sample, stratified by cuisine type and cooking methods, to better understand the effects of ventilation on levels of aldehydes and fine particles inside food trucks. Although the follow-up study has been postponed due to COVID-19, I hope to continue this project in the near future.

H. Phillips, J. Oh. 2020. Evaluation of Aldehydes, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), and PM2.5 Levels in Food Trucks: A Pilot Study. Workplace Health & Safety. 68(9): 443-451.

A favorite training program that you've participated in?

Through the continuing education efforts of the Deep South Center for Occupational Health and Safety, a NIOSH-funded education and research center, I am an instructor for respiratory fit testing. In this role, I revamped the respiratory fit testing training and deliver it to both professionals from various industries as well as our industrial hygiene students. Most professionals taking the course are health and safety managers who take their training back to their companies and perform PPEfit testing for their colleagues. In light of the pandemic, respirator fit is more important than ever, and I am very grateful that I am able to help in this way.