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Translation Research

Woman in a lab


Translation research explores how scientific work moves into practice and benefits society. Although this new field of research has not received much attention in occupational safety and health, it can have a valuable impact on workers everywhere. Today’s workplaces need research findings and products that can improve the quality of life, health, and work. Through translation research, NIOSH studies the process, drivers, and barriers for turning knowledge into practical applications that create these improvements for the safety and health of workers.

Translation researchers apply scientific investigative approaches to study how the outputs of basic and applied research can be effectively translated into practice and have an impact. This includes studying how knowledge and interventions are spread, accepted, applied, and institutionalized.

Activities in translation research range across the basic-to-applied continuum, and studies referred to as intervention research and translation research often overlap. NIOSH delineates the two in this way: intervention research involves improving an intervention or designing a new one, whereas translation research involves studying processes for putting research outputs into practice or use. These processes can include activities such as efficacy research (testing interventions in a realistic setting) and effectiveness research (testing interventions in a wide range of settings). Translation research also includes limited proof-of-concept testing and large-scale studies of research outputs and their impact.

The Translation Research Process

Translation research has four stages (Table 1):

  • Stage 1, development translation research, studies how a discovery made in a laboratory, field or pilot study or findings of risks, can move into a potential health and safety application to be tested.
  •  Stage 2, testing translation research, assesses the value of a new finding, invention, process, training program, or intervention. It looks for larger-scale workplace safety and health practices aimed at a specific work sector or across two or more work sectors.
  • Stage 3, institutionalization translation research, studies how evidence-based technology and recommendations become well-accepted workplace safety and health practices that are communicated and used on a large scale.
  • Stage 4, evaluation translation research, explores the “real world” health benefits and effects of moving these discoveries and interventions into large-scale practice. This phase examines impact over time through ongoing surveillance and evaluation.


Table 1. Examples of Translation Research for Different Types of Hazards

Table 1
Problem/Hazard Stage
0* Hazard/Problem
1 Development 2 Testing 3 Institutionalization 4 Evaluation
Physical Agent:
Hearing Loss
hearing loss [1]
of protocol
for testing hearing
protection devices [2]
Hearing protector
study [3], [4]
Identifying attitude
and behaviors
associated with
wearing hearing
protection [5]
Impact of hearing
conservation on
incidence of hearing
loss [6], [7]
Silicosis in
Identification of
silicosis in mining
of an
intervention [9]
Testing worker
response to
Development of
guidelines for
widespread use [11]
Utilization of
on-going or
new surveillance
data to determine
Hazard: Stress
Identification of
stress hazards
in healthcare
workers [12]
Development of
interventions in
healthcare [13]
Testing the effects
of modifying the
psychosocial work
environment [14]
Systematic review
of effectiveness
of various
interventions [15]
Surveillance [16]
Safety Hazard:
Resulting in
Injuries and
Identification of
injuries involving
winches [17]
Development of
ancillary stopping
switch [18], [19]
in target users [20]
methods of
implementation [21]
of injuries [22]

* Stage 0 is the basic or applied research finding that becomes the focus for study in Stages 1–4 of the translation research framework.  It is not part of that framework.

The translation research process should be a never-ending loop of research and translation, allowing for ongoing integration of effective approaches. This focus on improving the implementation of science shows NIOSH’s value as the nation’s primary occupational safety and health research institute. Translation research findings add great value to occupational safety and health research by helping us understand how science can better achieve practical benefits and what factors stand in the way of scientific work leading to useful outcomes. Translation research reveals how discoveries and guidance improve the lives of workers.

NIOSH Translation Research Program

NIOSH created its Translation Research Program to nurture, promote, and coordinate translation research and to more effectively transform science into useful actions and products. Translation research explores the processes by which research findings are successfully implemented in the workplace. The Translation Research Program is a NIOSH core and specialty program that promotes and coordinates translation research activities across NIOSH.

NIOSH also has a Research to Practice (r2p) program that addresses different aspects of translating research into useful products and services.  The NIOSH r2p program focuses on the transfer of knowledge, interventions, and technologies into effective practice, whereas translation research (Figure 1) is the study of how research findings are put into practice. NIOSH research translation and r2p efforts apply the results of workplace safety and health research at NIOSH and elsewhere.

The phrases translation research, translational research, and translational science have been used to describe the systematic effort to convert basic research outputs into practical applications to enhance human health and well-being. Generally, these uses of the phrase translational research refer to harnessing knowledge from basic medical science and bringing it into clinical practice (so-called bench-to-bedside models). In contrast, NIOSH defines the phrase translation research to refer to the study of the process of moving “research-to-practice-to-impact” and the methods, barriers and facilitators, context, and issues encountered in this process. However, in the scientific literature, the two descriptors of research—translation versus translational—overlap.

Source: Schulte et al. [2017]

In 2016 a NIOSH workgroup developed a framework for a wide-ranging plan for translation research. The plan will help NIOSH study how to move research findings into practice as quickly as possible, to improve worker safety.