Agriculture, forestry, and fishing research at NIOSH: reviews of research programs of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors are the cornerstone of industries that produce and market food, fiber, and fuel. Collectively, the three sectors make up a huge component of the U.S. economy and are a major employer in the United States. Annually, these industries generate more than $1 trillion and create exports exceeding $68 billion. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that more than 5.5 million workers are employed in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. These sectors also consistently rank in the top six most hazardous occupations; fishermen and loggers have the highest fatality rates. Collectively, the three sectors consistently have the highest injury and fatality rates of any U.S. industries, so the overall effect on the safety and health of exposed populations at agricultural, forestry, and fishing worksites is enormous. In conjunction with planned reviews of up to 15 NIOSH research programs, the National Research Council convened a committee of experts to review the NIOSH Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing Research Program (AFF Program) to evaluate the relevance of its work to improvements in occupational safety and health and the impact of NIOSH research in reducing workplace illnesses and injuries. Relevance was evaluated in terms of the priority of work carried out and its connection to improvements in workplace protection. Impact was evaluated in terms of its contributions to worker safety and health. The committee was also asked to assess the program's identification and targeting of new research areas, to identify emerging research issues, and to provide advice on ways the program might be strengthened. Although responsibility for controlling workplace exposure to agricultural, forestry, and fishing safety and health hazards lies with others, the AFF Program can be expected to contribute to efforts to reduce the effects of these workplace hazards through its research and information dissemination. Taking into account several important factors beyond the program's control, the committee found that from 1990-2006 (the period covered by this review), the AFF Program has made meaningful contributions to improving worker safety and health in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Using a five-point scoring scale (where 5 is highest), the committee converted its assessment of the relevance of AFF Program research into a score of 4 because research has been in high-priority and priority research areas, and research has resulted in some successful transfer activities. The committee arrived at this score after considerable deliberation: research carried out in some subprograms was more relevant than in others, and the program has been somewhat engaged in transfer activities, but not always the most appropriate. Had the committee been given the option of providing non-integer scores, the score for program relevance most likely would have been between 3 and 4. In addition, there was little evidence that the research activities, outputs, and intermediate outcomes contributed to the stated end outcomes of reducing workplace injury and illness. For this reason, the committee assigned the research program a score of 3 for impact, indicating that research program activities are ongoing and outputs are produced, which are likely to produce improvements in worker safety and health. To enhance the relevance and impact of its work and fulfill its stated mission of providing national and world leadership to reduce workplace hazards through a focused program of research and prevention, the AFF Program should foster effective leadership to create a cohesive program, establish strategic goals, implement a comprehensive surveillance system that identifies and tracks worker populations at risk, engage stakeholders for input on research priorities, develop new approaches for technology and information dissemination, and incorporate current national developments in its targeting of new and emerging research areas.