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NIOSH - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
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Overview of NIOSH

Legislative Authorization
Congress created NIOSH with the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Congress wrote that “personal injuries and illnesses arising out of work situations impose a substantial burden upon interstate commerce in terms of lost production, wage loss, medical expenses, and disability compensation payments,” and that its purpose in that Act was to, “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions . . . .” [1]

NIOSH's mission, to provide national and world leadership to prevent work-related illness, injury, disability and death, is critical to U.S. workers and to our social system.[2] In 2002, 5,524 occupational fatalities occurred in the U.S.; and in 2003, 4.4 million non-fatal injuries and illnesses occurred in the private sector alone.[3],[4] The Liberty Mutual 2004 Workplace Safety Index estimates that direct costs for occupational injuries in 2002 rose to $49.6 billion.[5]

Under the Act, NIOSH is charged with the responsibility to “conduct . . . research, experiments, and demonstrations relating to occupational safety and health” and to develop “innovative methods, techniques, and approaches for dealing with [those] problems.”1 The Act specified target areas of research that include identifying criteria for use in setting worker exposure standards and exploring new problems created by new technology in the workplace. In an amendment to the Act, Section 20, NIOSH was given responsibility to conduct research on workers who are at risk for bioterrorist threats or attacks in the workplace.

Section 21 of the Act gave NIOSH the responsibility to conduct training and education activities “to provide an adequate supply of qualified personnel to carry out the purposes of the Act” and for assisting employers and employees with applying methods to prevent occupational injuries and illness.

* More related information can be accessed at the NIOSH Web site, in the “About NIOSH” section:

The Act did not charge NIOSH with setting and enforcing workplace safety and health standards. Those tasks were assigned to the OSHA in the Department of Labor (DOL). DOL also houses the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). MSHA was created by the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. That Act transferred safety and health standard setting and enforcement functions for the mining industry from the Department of the Interior (DOI) to DOL. However, occupational safety and health research for mining was part of the U.S. Bureau of Mines (within the DOI) until 1996 when those functions were transferred to NIOSH as the Office for Mine Safety and Health Research.

Thus, for all industries, Congress set a clear division between research and enforcement functions and between the activities of the DHHS and DOL. That division is reflected today as NIOSH works together with OSHA and MSHA to achieve the common goal of protecting worker safety and health but simultaneously maintaining its unique identity. NIOSH serves as the sole federal government organization charged with conducting occupational safety and health research. Its role is seen by many as worker-centered, with research to protect the health and safety of workers as its primary and unique responsibility. Among federal programs, NIOSH tends to place workers’ interests higher than others do. As such, it has enjoyed support from a wide variety of business, worker, public health, environmental and advocacy organizations.

To maintain its leadership in occupational safety and health research, NIOSH studies a broad and changing population of workers. The distribution of jobs in the U.S. economy continues to shift from manufacturing to services. Longer hours, compressed work weeks, shift work, reduced job security, and part-time and temporary work are realities of the modern workplace. By the year 2008, the U.S. workforce will grow to an estimated 155 million, with minorities representing 28 percent of the workforce and with women representing 48 percent. This changing population represents a major challenge for NIOSH as it manages limited resources to accomplish a broad program of research.

Mission, Values and Strategic Plan
NIOSH’s mission is to provide national and world leadership to prevent work-related illness, injury, disability and death.

It carries out the mission by adhering to a set of core values:

Relevance – NIOSH programs are responsive to the occupational safety and health problems found in today's workplaces and the workplaces of tomorrow.

Diversity – NIOSH employees reflect the full spectrum of diversity found in the U.S. workforce and our research and interventions reflect the diversity of solutions needed for the U.S. workplace.

Quality – NIOSH utilizes only the best science, the highest level of data quality, and the most transparent and independent peer review.

Partnership – NIOSH accomplishes its mission in partnership with employers and workers as well as in academia, industry, government, and scientific and professional communities, both nationally and internationally. These partnerships are formed strategically to improve planning, execution, review of NIOSH research. They also help translate and transfer research outputs to the workplace.

Access – NIOSH customers can obtain all NIOSH products and services through expanded traditional and electronic access.

Performance – NIOSH programs are results-oriented.

Accountability – NIOSH programs are evaluated by how well they solve the occupational safety and health problems found in today's workplaces and the workplaces of tomorrow.

NIOSH’s performance in pursuit of its mission and values is reflected in strategic planning and research activities, outputs, and impacts or its contributions to outcomes in the workplace. NIOSH was guided by a strategic plan from 1997 to 2002 (Appendix B), and a new plan was developed for 2005 to 2009. The goals of this plan are to:

NIOSH is developing strategic plans for its research programs. These planning efforts are characterized by stakeholder involvement, including researchers, employers, and employees. There have been two previous major national efforts to set NIOSH research paths. The first occurred during the 1980’s when NIOSH conducted a series of national symposia on the leading causes of occupationally-related illness and injury. Those meetings resulted in ten written strategies for prevention that guided NIOSH research programs during the early 1990s (including noise-induced hearing loss). The second effort began in April 1996, when NIOSH and its partners unveiled NORA, a framework to guide occupational safety and health research into the new millennium—not only for NIOSH but for the entire occupational safety and health community. Approximately 500 organizations and individuals outside NIOSH provided input into the development of NORA. The NORA process resulted in a list of the top 21 research priorities in occupational safety and health ( Teams of researchers and other stakeholders were formed for each of these priority areas. Many have published consensus agendas for research. NIOSH researchers were prominent in those efforts.

Plans are underway to renew NORA in 2006 ( The second decade of NORA will be organized to prepare research agendas for major industrial sectors along with agendas for some cross-cutting issues. This renewal for NORA may help bring NIOSH even closer to the problems of U.S. industry and its workers.

NIOSH applies public health principles and practices to the workplace where there are many interested parties. Consequently, NIOSH has always been influenced by consensus judgments from even small groups about research directions for the field. The two national efforts described above have been supplemented by hundreds of domestic and international occupational safety and health meetings at which NIOSH scientists have participated in discussions about the appropriate direction for future research. Many of those interactions have influenced what NIOSH is doing today.

External Guidance
The NIOSH Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) is composed of renowned scientists from a variety of fields related to occupational safety and health. The BSC members provide advice and guidance to NIOSH 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: (1) conform to standards of scientific excellence in accomplishing objectives in occupational safety and health; (2) address currently relevant needs in the field of occupational safety and health, either alone or in collaboration with activities outside of NIOSH; and (3) 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.

The Government Performance Results Act and the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART)
The 1993 Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) mandates that federal agencies develop multiyear strategic plans, annual performance plans, and annual performance reports. In addition, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) developed the Program Assessment Ratings Tool (PART), to assess federal agency performance on a number of measures including strategic planning, program management, and program results. NIOSH collaborated with OMB to complete the PART process in 2004. As a result, NIOSH arrived at performance measures for three targeted industry sectors:

NIOSH is working on developing more of these outcome-oriented kinds of measures for prioritized areas.


[1] US Congress [1970]. Occupational Safety And Health Act of 1970, Public Law 91-596, 29 USC 651, Sec. 2-b.

[2] NIOSH Strategic Plan. [].

[3] Bureau of Labor Statistics [2002]. National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries In 2002. [].

[4] Bureau of Labor Statistics [2003]. Workplace Injuries in Illnesses In 2003.

[5] Liberty Mutual Insurance Company [2005]. Despite 6.2% fall in the number of serious workplace injuries, their financial impact on employers remains huge. [ year=2005& prid=1078448761279& pagename=ResearchCenter%2FPage%2FPressReleaseOrange& C=Page].

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