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Program Description

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the Act) stated:

"The Congress finds that personal injuries and illnesses arising out of work situations impose a substantial burden upon, and are a hindrance to, interstate commerce in terms of lost production, wage loss, medical expenses, and disability compensation payments." [ Section (2)(a) ]

The Act described the overarching goal:

"…to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources --" [ Section (2)(b) ]

It further specified the aim:

"… to stimulate employers and employees to institute new and to perfect existing programs for providing safe and healthful working conditions; " [ Section (2)(b)(1) ]

Thus, the Act lays out its purpose and approach in terms that are in large part economic, both with regard to the burden of worker injury and illness and the opportunities for preventing it.

In addition, the purpose and approach of Federal government regulatory processes are partially presented in economic terms. Economic analysis is at the core of Executive Order 12866 , as well as the more recent Executive Order 13563 , which states that

"Our regulatory system must protect public health, welfare, safety, and our environment while promoting economic growth, innovation, competitiveness, and job creation." [Section (1)(a)]

As prescribed in the Act and in the Executive Orders, economic analysis guides the design of effective, practical safety and health interventions that provide the most benefit at the least cost both at the employer’s level, by making the business case for preventing worker injury and illness, and at the societal level through evaluations that consider the comprehensive costs and benefits of proposed regulations. Economics also points to the economic factors or conditions that influence the incidence and severity of worker injury and illness, with the aim of identifying workplaces where these conditions need to be altered or their effects mitigated. Therefore, through the understanding of economic factors that affect worker safety and health, the economic outcomes of worker injury and illness, and the prevention opportunities that provide the most impact for the least cost, economics can make an important contribution to the NIOSH mission.

The NIOSH Economics Program is organized to advance occupational safety and health through the following key objectives:

  1. Fully describe the burden of worker injury and illness and evaluate the interventions that identify best practices in economic terms. This objective aims to better define the true societal burden as originally outlined in Section (2)(a) of the Act, as well as to stimulate employers and employees to adopt interventions to improve safety and health, as outlined in Section (2)(b) of the Act;
  2. Determine the factors which influence or affect the provision of occupational safety and health services, training in prevention, and the use of protective equipment or control technologies and to identify the actions that can leverage the biggest improvement for the least cost;
  3. Enhance the ability of economists and occupational safety and health practitioners to make full use of economic information to inform their decision-making;
  4. Promote partnerships to encourage application of economic principles to drive improved occupational safety and health; and
  5. Conduct analyses that compare regulatory and non-regulatory options to accomplish the mission of the Institute and provide assistance to NIOSH's statutory partners under the Act and the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969 as amended in 1977.

The NIOSH-supported projects and publications that address these objectives are described on the Economics Program's Strategic Goals webpages.