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Program Description

View more about Occupational Health Surveillance at NIOSH

What Is Surveillance?

Public health surveillance is the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of data in order to improve health and safety. Surveillance is essential to the planning, implementation, and evaluation of public health practices. Key to public health surveillance is the dissemination and use of data to improve health. The final link in the surveillance chain is the application of these data to prevention and control.

Occupational health surveillance is the tracking of occupational injuries, illnesses, hazards, or exposures. Occupational surveillance data are used to guide efforts to improve worker safety and health and to monitor trends and progress over time.

Surveillance includes both population- or group-based activities and individual-based activities. The latter are often referred to as worker screening or monitoring and are undertaken to detect early disease in individuals followed by intervention to prevent exacerbation of symptoms.

Surveillance at NIOSH

Tracking occupational injuries, illnesses, hazards, and exposures has been an integral part of NIOSH since its creation by the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. These surveillance activities document the nation's progress in reducing the burden of work-related diseases and injuries. They have identified the need for additional research and prevention efforts for both previously recognized as well as new problems. Despite these accomplishments, occupational health surveillance in the United States remains fragmented, with substantial data gaps.

NIOSH complements statistical or surveillance activities carried out by other federal agencies (including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and the National Center for Health Statistics), state governments, and private sector groups such as employers.

Data and information derived from surveillance can be used to:

  • Guide immediate action for cases of public health importance
  • Measure the burden of an injury or disease (or other health-related event or exposure), including changes in related factors, the identification of populations at high risk, and the identification of new or emerging health concerns
  • Guide the planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs to prevent and control injuries, disease, or adverse exposures
  • Evaluate public policy
  • Detect changes in health practices and the effects of the changes
  • Prioritize the allocation of health resources
  • Describe the clinical course of disease
  • Provide a basis for epidemiologic research

What Does NIOSH Do?

  • Analyzes and interprets existing data
  • Undertakes data collection efforts to fill gaps in surveillance data
  • Provides support to state agencies to conduct occupational surveillance and associated prevention efforts
  • Funds and conducts research on surveillance methods
  • Works with federal, state, and private sector partners to improve occupational health surveillance

The NIOSH Surveillance Program involves both intramural and extramural activities. Several NIOSH Divisions and Laboratories include units focused on surveillance:

NIOSH Divisions and Laboratories

NIOSH Division Analyzes and collects data on
Surveillance Branch in the Division of Respiratory Disease Studies (DRDS) Occupational respiratory disease surveillance
Surveillance and Field Investigations Branch in the Division of Safety Research (DSR) Occupational injuries , such as injuries treated in hospital emergency departments ( Work-RISQS ), and field-based investigations of selected types of injury fatalities, such as FACE
Surveillance Branch in the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies (DSHEFS) Non-respiratory diseases and illnesses, such as dermatitis, lead , pesticide poisoning , and cancer
Pittsburgh and Spokane Research Laboratories Mining Statistics
Alaska Regional Office Commercial Aviation in Alaska
  Commercial Fishing Safety

Additionally, NIOSH works with other CDC groups to better incorporate collection of occupational information into CDC’s other public health surveillance activities.

Extramural activities include support for surveillance activities including research and public health practice. One of the NIOSH National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) categories is Surveillance Research Methods. NIOSH has funded numerous grants for research to improve surveillance methodology, including methods related to case identification, data collection, analysis, and dissemination.

NIOSH supports a number of surveillance efforts involving public health practice by state health departments and other agencies with responsibility for occupational safety and health.