The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness.
The mission of NIOSH is to generate new knowledge in the field of occupational safety and health and to transfer that knowledge into practice for the betterment of workers. To accomplish this mission, NIOSH conducts scientific research, develops guidance and authoritative recommendations, disseminates information, and responds to requests for workplace health hazard evaluations.
NIOSH provides national and world leadership to prevent work-related illness, injury, disability, and death by gathering information, conducting scientific research, and translating the knowledge gained into products and services, including scientific information products, training videos, and recommendations for improving safety and health in the workplace.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 created both NIOSH and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA is in the U.S. Department of Labor and is responsible for developing and enforcing workplace safety and health regulations. NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Department of Health and Human Services. NIOSH is an agency established to help assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by providing research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health. Information pertaining to the specific responsibilities of NIOSH are found in Section 22 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (29 CFR § 671). Additionally, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act of 1977 delegated additional authority to NIOSH for coal mine health research. A link to Notable Milestones in NIOSH History can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/timeline.html
NIOSH headquarters are in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, GA with staff in Anchorage, AK; Cincinnati, OH; Denver, CO; Morgantown, WV; Pittsburgh, PA; and Spokane, WA. NIOSH has a professionally diverse staff of 1,200 scientists from the fields of epidemiology, medicine, industrial hygiene, safety, psychology, engineering, chemistry, statistics, economics and administration. In addition to the research NIOSH conducts in its own laboratories, NIOSH also serves as the major support for occupational safety and health research in academic centers in the U.S.
- Directory for NIOSH Offices and Key Personnel – List of NIOSH Divisions, Laboratories and Offices.
Burden of Injury and Illness to Workers, Their Families and the Nation
In 2010, a total of 4,690 U.S. workers died from occupational injuries (1). Another 49,000 annual deaths are attributed to work-related diseases each year (2). In 2007, an estimated 4.0 million private-sector workers had a nonfatal occupational injury or illness; approximately half of them were transferred, restricted, or took time away from work (3). An estimated 3.4 million workers were treated in emergency departments in 2004 (the most recent data available) because of occupational injuries, and approximately 80,000 were hospitalized (4).
Work-related injuries and illnesses are costly. In 2006, employers spent nearly $87.6 billion on workers' compensation (5), but this represents only a portion of total work-related injury and illness costs borne by employers, workers, and society overall, including cost-shifting to other insurance systems and most costs of work-related illness.
National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA): In 1996, NIOSH launched NORA, an innovative public-private partnership to establish priorities for occupational safety and health research both at NIOSH and throughout the country. During its first decade, NORA advanced safety and health knowledge in 21 scientific areas by emphasizing priority-driven research. In 2006, NORA began its second decade by focusing national research on the problems of highest relevance to workers, employers and occupational safety and health practitioners in the major industrial sectors of Agriculture, Construction, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Mining, Services, Trade and Transportation. NIOSH serves as the steward of the NORA and facilitates the work of stakeholder-driven NORA Sector Councils, which have developed roadmaps to direct research and service activities in each sector. It is NIOSH’s job to ensure that NORA research activities are relevant to the problems of today’s workplaces, conducted using the highest quality science, and having a measurable impact on improving the lives of workers.
Case Study in Improving Workers’ Lives
NIOSH research was instrumental in helping to identify the risk of a severe, work-related lung disease (bronchiolitis obliterans) in workers exposed to vapors from heated butter flavorings in industrial operations. In May 2000, an occupational medicine physician contacted the State of Missouri to report eight cases of severe lung disease in former workers of a microwave popcorn factory. Missouri called in NIOSH’s Health Hazard Evaluation Program to help them find out the cause of the illness and ways to prevent it. NIOSH subsequently worked with diverse partners to provide a fundamental base of knowledge about the nature of the hazard in popcorn manufacturing plants, identify the factors that contribute to the risk, design interim exposure control measures in plants, and assess the effectiveness of those interim controls. NIOSH has collaborated with partners in industry, the worker community, other government agencies, and the medical community to disseminate its findings and recommendations for use nationwide.
To ensure that NORA research has impact on the lives of workers and their families, NIOSH uses a research-to-practice focus for all its intramural and extramural activities. Through its Research to Practice (r2p) Initiative, NIOSH works closely with partners to transfer and translate research findings, technologies, and information into highly effective prevention practices and products that can be adopted immediately in the workplace.
Prevention through Design: Many workplace fatalities and injuries are caused by poor design of equipment and processes, yet design standards for occupational safety and health are few. In 2007, NIOSH began a national initiative called Prevention through Design (PtD) to eliminate hazards from the workplace that result from design flaws. PtD helps engineers and architects, employers, owners, and others to recognize design issues that affect worker safety and to incorporate safe design, equipment, and work practices early in the design process, and as new facilities are built or existing ones are renovated.
Total Worker Health™: (Formerly the WorkLife Initiative): A comprehensive organizational strategy that integrates traditional occupational safety and health protection efforts with health promotion and other workplace activities to prevent illness and injury, regardless of cause, so that all workers have opportunities to achieve optimal levels of health and well-being. NIOSH funded and partnered with three national WorkLife Centers of Excellence to further explore and research these concepts (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/TWH/centers.html). NIOSH will begin building an intramural research program focused on evolving the WorkLife program concept for integration of health and safety protection and health and wellness promotion into a comprehensive intramural program for Total Worker Health™.
Health Hazard Evaluation Program: The Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Program is at the frontline of NIOSH research and service. In response to requests from workers (or their representatives), employers, and other government agencies, HHE scientists conduct workplace assessments to determine if workers are exposed to hazardous materials or harmful conditions and whether these exposures are affecting worker health. NIOSH evaluates the workplace environment and the health of employees by reviewing records and conducting on-site environmental sampling, epidemiologic surveys, and medical testing.
Fire Fighters: Every year, about 105 fire fighters die in the line of duty across the U.S. NIOSH conducts investigations of many of these deaths to develop recommendations about steps that the fire service can take to prevent similar deaths in the future. NIOSH’s Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation Program has made over 1,000 recommendations arising from over 300 investigations since its inception in 1998.
Energy Workers: NIOSH conducts an occupational energy research program to more fully understand radiation cancer risk factors in radiation exposed workers and to recommend improved protective measures. NIOSH is also responsible for determining occupational radiation exposure for workers with cancer who are eligible for compensation under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000. NIOSH’s dose reconstructions are used by the U.S. Department of Labor to determine the probability that a worker's cancer was "at least as likely as not" caused by his or her occupational exposure to ionizing radiation during employment at a covered facility and to award compensation benefits.
Emergency Responders: The World Trade Center (WTC) disaster triggered a massive emergency response involving tens of thousands of emergency responders. These workers, and members of the community, were exposed to known toxic agents. In addition to providing technical assistance during the WTC disaster, NIOSH designed medical monitoring and treatment programs for WTC disaster emergency responders and the surrounding community. Through a consortium of grantees and contractors, NIOSH oversees centers of excellence for assessing and treating the current physical and mental health conditions appearing in the WTC responder and community populations. Through periodic surveillance, the NIOSH WTC Health Program also has the ability to detect the appearance of longer term effects in a population at high risk for developing multiple health conditions in the future. The NIOSH Emergency Responders Resource page can also be accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emres/responders.html.
The National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL): NPPTL was established at the NIOSH Pittsburgh site to provide leadership for the prevention of injury and illness among workers who must rely on personal protective equipment, including respirators, gloves, and hard hats. NPPTL's strategic research program will ensure that the development of new personal protective equipment will meet real needs as work settings, technologies, and worker populations’ change and new threats emerge.
Developing and supporting a new generation of researchers and practitioners is critical to the future of occupational safety and health. NIOSH funds programs to support occupational safety and health research and education through 17 regional university-based Education and Research Centers; 8 Centers for Agricultural Disease and Injury Research, Education, and Prevention; and 31 Training Project grants that train occupational health professionals and researchers to help meet the increasing demand for occupational physicians, occupational nurses, industrial hygienists and safety professionals. The NIOSH-supported Centers also conduct research and prevention projects to address the Nation’s occupational health and safety problems.
As part of its mission, NIOSH operates programs in every state to improve the health and safety of workers. As part of these State Activities, NIOSH:
- Evaluates workplace hazards and recommends solutions when requested by employers, workers, or state or federal agencies;
- Builds State worker safety and health capacity through grants and cooperative agreements;
- Funds occupational safety and health research on a wide variety of topics at universities and other organizations; and
- Supports occupational safety and health training programs. For more information on state programs see the NIOSH state activities page.
NIOSH Topic pages: Collections of occupational safety and health information arranged by subject.
CDC/NIOSH Publications: Access all NIOSH numbered publications at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/pubs/.
To order NIOSH numbered publications go to http://wwwn.cdc.gov/pubs/niosh.aspx or call CDC INFO 1-800-CDC-INFO
NIOSH Bibliography of Communication and Research Products 2008: A listing of recent NIOSH research products for 2008 (1999-2007versions also available)
Extramural Programs and Funding Opportunities: Grants, and cooperative agreements for research and training, etc.
CDC/ATSDR Policy on Releasing and Sharing Data: ensures that NIOSH routinely provides data to its partners for appropriate public health purposes and that all data are released and/or shared as soon as feasible without compromising privacy concerns, federal and state confidentiality concerns, proprietary interests, national security interests, or law enforcement activities.
CDC Privacy Rules: NIOSH complies with the CDC Privacy Rule. These regulations provide protection for the privacy of certain individually identifiable health data.
NIOSH Board of Scientific Counselors: The Board is composed of renowned scientists from a variety of fields related to occupational safety and health. The Board members provide advice and guidance to the Institute in developing and evaluating research hypotheses, systematically documenting findings, and disseminating results that will improve the safety and health of workers. They also evaluate the degree to which NIOSH activities:
- Conform to standards of scientific excellence in accomplishing objectives in occupational safety and health
- Address currently relevant needs in the field of occupational safety and health, either alone or in collaboration with activities outside of NIOSH
- Produce their intended results in addressing important research questions in occupational safety and health, both in terms of applicability of the research findings and dissemination of the findings
- US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fatal Occupational Injuries and Workers Memorial Day, Washington, DC: US Department of Labor; 2012. Available at http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/worker_memorial.htm.
- Steenland K, Burnett C, Lalich N, Ward E, Hurrell J. Dying for work: the magnitude of U.S. mortality from selected causes of death associated with occupation. Am J Ind Med 2003;43:461--82.
- US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workplace injuries and illnesses in 2007. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor; 2008. Available at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/osh.pdf.
- CDC. Nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses---United States, 2004. MMWR 2007;56:393--7.
- Sengupta I, Reno V, Burton JF Jr. Workers' compensation: benefits, coverage, and costs, 2006. Washington, DC: National Academy of Social Insurance; 2008. Available at http://www.nasi.org/usr_doc/nasi_workers_comp_report_2006.pdf.
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
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