Education and Research Centers

Background and Purpose

The United States Public Health Service (USPHS) is committed to achieving a society in which all people live long, healthy lives. The vision, mission, and goals are found in Healthy People 2030, a USPHS-led national activity to achieve better health in the United States by the year 2030. According to Healthy People 2030, more than 160 million people participate in the U.S. labor force, and their work has an intrinsic connection to their safety, health, and well-being. Decades of public health surveillance and research have demonstrated that work-related injuries adversely affect employers, workers, and communities. Workplace settings vary widely in size, sector, design, location, processes, culture, and resources. In addition, workers themselves have different ages, genders, education levels, cultural backgrounds, health practices, vulnerabilities, and levels of access to preventive health care. This translates into great diversity and disparity in the safety and health risks for each industry sector and the need for tailored interventions.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 mandates that NIOSH provide an adequate supply of qualified personnel to carry out the purposes of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. NIOSH ERCs have a key role in meeting this mandate and contribute to the Institute’s core mission of preventing workplace injuries and illnesses.  In 1977, NIOSH supported 9 ERCs in 9 states and 5 Health and Human Services (HHS) Federal Regions.  Presently, NIOSH supports 18 ERCs across all 10 HHS Regions.  Over 20,000 individuals graduated from ERCs in the core and allied disciplines in occupational health and safety from 1977 – 2020.  As capacity in occupational safety and health practice and research has increased, the number and rates of work-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities have decreased (BLS, 2021).

The far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the vital role occupational health and safety has in the United States and beyond. From occupational exposures that led to illness and death to the mental and economic stressors the pandemic placed across individuals, workplaces, and communities, ERCs responded rapidly to the needs of their students, staff and faculty and regional stakeholders by providing broad-based approaches to protection from the virus.  This included guidance on proper use and decontamination of personal protective equipment, respirator fit testing, social distancing for worksites, and the use of physical protective barriers. Many ERCs developed communication products, resource guides, online courses, and webinars on safe work practices during the pandemic.

As our nation and the world continues to recover from the pandemic, ERCs will continue to train safety and health practitioners and researchers with the knowledge and skills to respond to natural, man-made, environmental, and public health disasters. Historically, ERCs have provided expertise in worker health and safety following events such as hurricanes (Katrina, Maria, and Harvey), the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, illicit drug exposures to law enforcement and emergency medical services, and Ebola and influenza outbreaks. ERC’s responses have included outreach activities and research training opportunities that highlighted the expertise of ERC’s faculty, staff, and trainees.

Public Health Impact

Work-related illnesses continue to have a significant public health impact, and part of NIOSH’s mission is to train the next generation of occupational safety and health (OSH) practitioners and researchers. Recent work by Felknor, et al (2020) speaks to the ‘rapid and profound changes in the future of work that will have significant implication for the education and training of OSH professionals and the workforce’. NIOSH’s network of ERCs is critical in developing OSH professionals prepared to respond to the changing nature of work. These changes are the result of technological advances, globalization, new and emerging risks, occupational health disparities associated with the changing demographics of the US workforce, climate change and other factors. The ERCs provide well-trained graduates and professionals for federal, state, and local government agencies; not-for-profit agencies; industry; academia; business; healthcare; and labor organizations. ERCs strive to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in the safety and health workforce through training, research training, continuing education, and outreach.

Relevant Work

ERC key personnel and trainees collaborate with stakeholders to develop innovative approaches to improving workplace safety and health, by the translation of research to practice (r2p) and prevention through design (PtD). NIOSH ERCs translate scientific discoveries into practice through effective training, research, continuing education, and outreach.

USA Map of Education and Research Centers

Center Description